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Shooting woes send West Fargo packing

Head coach Greg Limke wont be the first to say anything bad about the Alerus Center. Playing in the Eastern Dakota Conference Tournament there twice, the West Fargo Packer boys squad has made the East Region Championship game on both occasions.

But, one thing he cant deny is his teams shooting woes in the big arena. Throughout the EDC Tournament this year, with a wins over Grand Forks Central and Fargo South and a loss to Fargo North, his team didnt break the 50-point barrier, and shot less than 40 percent in the last two games.

Yet, the Packs defense had been enough to push them through to the State A Tournament.

This is a group that really didnt have a lot of things expected from it going into the season, but theyve worked hard and done what weve asked, and good things have happened for them, Limke said. Were excited to get the chance to play at the State level.

Williston 54,

West Fargo 47

A rematch from the East-West Holiday Tournament in Bismarck, things went a little differently the second time around for the Coyotes and Packers.

Back in December, West Fargo opened the game with a nine point spurt that forced Williston coach Mark Slotsve to call an early time-out.

I told our guys that if we werent going to step out and get a hand on somebody, we were going to be in for a long day, he said. We settled down after that, but that was enough to get them off to a good enough start that they held on for the win.

This time, Williston put up a tough perimeter defense that hounded the Packers the entire night, and it was the Coyotes that built an early advantage that was too much for West Fargo to overcome.

The Packers trailed by as many as nine points in the first quarter, thanks to the Williston zone defense and another tough shooting day. The Yotes built a 21-9 advantage before West Fargo scored the final six points of the first half, mostly on transition buckets, to cut the halftime lead to three, 21-18.

That (difference in starts) was a big factor, you have to think, Limke said. If we get some shots to go and get some momentum, things might have changed.

West Fargo then put together a strong third quarter, and took the lead at one point, 32-30, heading into the final minute. Williston, however, responded with a 5-0 lead to come back and take a three-point advantage, and the Packers never recovered.

In the fourth quarter, Willistons defense took control, shutting out the Packers for the first three minutes of the period, until Tom Bishoff scored on a drive with five minutes left in the game. His basket cut the Coyotes lead to four.

Williston then went inside to 6-foot, 11-inch Brad Qvale, who scored the next four points of the game, leading Williston on a six-point run that essentially put the game out of reach.

We had done well against him most of the game but he got free that last quarter for some big baskets, Limke said. You can do all you want in practice to prepare for their height, but you cant replicate it. Its not something you can coach. Theyre big, and you have to have a day when youre making your shots to sort of force them out of their game. We didnt have that kind of day today.

While Qvale is the tallest player for the Coyotes, the height goes all the way through their lineup. Their shortest starter, Andy Leer, is 6-foot, 2-inches tall. In contrast, West Fargos tallest starter, Taylor Moch, is 6-foot, 3.

It was tough. We knew what we were up against, but its really a disadvantage to be a shooting team in a large arena against a big team, Limke said.

The Coyotes Justin Tjelde proved to be the big factor down the stretch, draining a pair of key baskets in the fourth quarter. Leer, meanwhile, shot 7-of-10 from the line, as the Coyotes shot 37 free throws thanks to West Fargos 29 fouls on the day.

I think we worked hard to get it to 32-all, and we even had that two-point lead, but after that we just didnt make shots. If we knock down a couple of baskets with that lead, that gives you a little burst of energy. But when you miss on a couple of possessions when the game is tight like that, its tough, Limke said.

Tjelde and guard Alex Hagen led Williston with 10 points each, while Qvale added nine. West Fargo was led by Tanner Farkas, who had 14 points. Ben Wolden and Bishoff added 11. The Packs leading scorer, Moch, was held scoreless.

When hes matching up with a guy 6-foot, 11, theres going to be nights like that. He had the foul trouble early on, too, so we couldnt play him a lot of minutes, Limke said.

West Fargo shot just 29 percent for the game, and was a paltry 7-for-35 from 3-point land on the game.

I think, coming into the game, we knew they were going to pull the trigger from out there, Slotsve said. But we made them work for their shots. I think the big credit for our guys is that we were able to get to those long rebounds after the long shots. Thats a big key. If you dont give them another chance, youre in better shape.

The loss meant a fourth match-up with Central in the consolation semifinal contest. It meant the fourth meeting between the two EDC rivals.

We know them well, Limke said. It should be a good game.

Grand Forks Central 59,

West Fargo 48

The old saying states its tough to beat a team three times in one season. West Fargo already had that in the bag when it squared off with Central on Friday. What it couldnt get was victory No. 4.

The Central Knights, who came into the tournament thanks to an eyebrow-raising upset of Devils Lake in the EDC Tournament, knocking off the states No. 1 team, moved to the consolation championship with a fourth-quarter run that delighted the home crowd at the Alerus Center.

Central built a six-point lead at the half, only to see it evaporate as the Packers finally found their groove at this state tournament, scoring 18 points in the third quarter to take a four point lead into the final eight minutes.

But, like the March weather, the Packers got cold as quickly as they warmed up, and Central used a 10-4 run to retake the lead, and never looked back.

We know were always going to get a tough, physical game from that team, Limke said. Theyre playing much better basketball now than they were in the earl portion of the season.

Despite leading by as much as seven points, West Fargo managed only 12 points in the fourth quarter, as Central poured in 27 to earn the 11-point win.

The Knights were led by senior guard Andrew Schultz, who lit up West Fargo for 25 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

The key factor in the game, however, was the Knights performance from the free-throw line. Central hit 25 of 34 free throws, thanks to 29 West Fargo personal fouls.

As a result Wolden and Moch fouled out of their final games as Packers.

West Fargo, which finished the season with three straight losses, wound up 16-8 on the year, a surprise to many pundits who had them as low as seventh in the EDC.

This group passed a lot of peoples expectations early, winning seven in a row and getting out to a great start. Then people started to look for different things from us, Limke said. I think, all along, these guys knew they had it within themselves to play with anybody. So they werent surprised to make it this far.

Seniors Jordy Idso, Marcel Green, Colin Gatz and Dustin Gregory joined Moch, Wolden and Bishoff in their final games.