'PROUD TO BE A PACKER'
Down to the wire: all the Packers needed was the ball to bounce their way.
"We were close," West Fargo girls basketball coach Barb Metcalf said.
So close, but just short.
After winning the East Region regular season title outright, then following it with the EDC tournament title, the Packers were poised for a clean sweep as the favored team entering last weekend's North Dakota Class A tournament at the FargoDome.
West Fargo stormed through their first two games, beating Minot 60-55 on Thursday, and Bismarck 65-56 on Friday.
The lone hiccup - and just their second loss of a remarkable season - came in Saturday's championship game against none other than Bismarck Century, a team that was toe-to-toe with West Fargo in the polls all season.
"It was a great buildup to kind of what everyone wanted to see," Metcalf said.
It was the quintessential title matchup: No. 1 West Fargo vs. No. 2 Century. While the Packers led for much of the game, they never got up by more than a handful of points. And just when it seemed like West Fargo would pull away, the Patriots came charging back.
The Packers led 32-28 at the half. The teams were neck-and-neck through the remainder of the game, but a pair of 3-pointers by Century's A.J. Jacobs pushed the pendulum firmly in their favor.
Even with a roaring crowd of Packer fans shaking the FargoDome rafters, the Patriots took the lead 55-52 with less than 1:30 left in the game thanks to Jacobs' second tre.
A comeback was not in the cards for West Fargo.
"We duked it out pretty well, but had a couple of miscues on our part. Everything stat-wise was pretty much even," Metcalf said. "We just suffered a couple more turnovers, and there is such a small margin of error when playing a quality team like Bismarck Century.
"They had errors too, but it just so happened that whoever had the ball in their hands at the end, they were the winners."
As the clock ticked down, emotions flowed freely. And when the horn sounded and Century's bench erupted, West Fargo players couldn't help but feel like their historical season was somehow tarnished.
But in Metcalf's eyes, their 23-2 season was anything but. In fact, as far as she is concerned, 2011-12 made the rest of the state stand up and take notice of West Fargo.
"The Pack attack is back," Metcalf said. "It's how we played all season, and really, that's how we're going to continue to play in the future."
That "attack" was executed by a smattering of top-notch players, each of whom shown in their own respect in every game of the season.
During the state tournament, however, it was junior Lexi Lennon who took the Packer bull by the horns. She waged war on her opponents, scoring 21 points (including four 3-pointers) against Minot, 20 against Bismarck and 13 over Century; all team highs.
"I saw her in the hallway Monday, and she wore her battle wounds," Metcalf said of Lennon. "She was a bit sore."
Lennon was one of three Packers to earn spots on the All-Tournament teams, which included Erin Krogh and Christine Baltezore.
Krogh, a 5-foot-11 senior, amassed 25 points during the tournament, and was as aggressive on offense as defense. Baltezore, a fleet-footed junior, was a multifaceted playmaker with four assists against Minot, a pair of threes against Bismarck, and 10 points versus Century.
But they are just the tip of the West Fargo iceberg. And while the Packers lose a half dozen players next season due to graduation, Metcalf is quick to point out that the ones remaining will be more than able to pick up the slack.
"If anything, getting to the championship makes them hungry; maybe even greedy," she said.
Amanda Levin, Jolene Woodbury, and Cassidy Thorson, to name a few, will be leaders to look up to next year.
And even though they may be a bit downtrodden from the Saturday's events, there is a lot to be proud of.
"The legacy of our group is we have a basketball program that is being respected throughout the state," Metcalf said. "It's really given us momentum for next season.
"We shouldn't hang our heads."
Metcalf also said that, if there was one thing that really needed to be emphasized, it was how the outpouring of community support helped strengthen the Packers' reserves.
"It was a great atmosphere and the intensity was there. Really, I was overwhelmed and so proud to be a Packer," she said. "From the kids to the older community members and everyone in between, what touched me the most was the Packer pride at the dome.
"It was tremendous support, and we are so thankful for it. There is no way to express my gratitude."