As Joe Pistorius hits a 3-pointer from the wing, he hung his head in relief and disbelief.
He hadn't been able to hit a single shot from that range, despite playing it for a good part of his high school career. He found himself there again in the East Region tournament semifinals against crosstown rival West Fargo Sheyenne.
He scored a game-high 27 points and led No. 2-seeded West Fargo to a Class A state tournament berth with an 81-75 win over No. 5 seed Fargo South in an East Region boys basketball tournament state-qualifying game on Saturday, March 3, at Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
The Packers, as the No. 3 seed out of the East Region, will play West Region No. 2 seed Jamestown in the Class A state tournament quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
"We got mentally prepared for this game," Pistorius said. "It's a relief. As a shooter, and they're not going in and you get one in, it feels good. I've got to give the guys credit for recovering from my missed opportunities."
The Packers defeated Fargo North 82-65 in an East Region quarterfinals game at West Fargo High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Then No. 3-seeded Sheyenne upset No. 2 seed West Fargo 74-71 in the East Region semifinals on Thursday, March 1.
That game was a rematch of last year's East Region semifinals in which Sheyenne won by one point. This rendition between the Packers and Mustangs was just as much back-and-forth and chippy with plenty of extra curricular physicality as this rivalry has seen.
Pistorius willed the Packers back into the game late and gave his team's offense life with steals, fast breaks and acrobatic layups. He scored 20 points in the second half and finished with a game-high 26 points.
"We didn't play hard enough in the first half and didn't run our offense," Packers head coach Adam Palczewski said. "They have some guys who can shoot it. We have to make them miss. You don't just count on someone to miss."
The Packers were on an eight-game winning streak going into the East Region tournament with their last loss in the regular season being to South. After the Packers fell to Sheyenne in the semifinals, their backs were against the wall.
In the Packers' state-qualifying game, Pistorius scored 15 of the Packers' first 31 points, mostly on floaters and midrange jump shots. The Bruins didn't let West Fargo's lead get higher than seven points in the first half, but for every South score, the Packers had a response.
The Packers finished with a 30-18 rebounding advantage which was led by Abdi Sufi, who totaled 21 points and seven rebounds, and Luke Lennon, who ended with a double-double 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Those rebounds helped the Packers finish with 16 second-chance points to South's five.
"South is a very good team that pressed us hard and plays hard all the time," Sufi said. "It just ended up with us playing harder. We wanted it more."
Neither team put together much of a run until the final minutes. With South down by 10 with about four minutes left, Siadu Conteh hit a 3-pointer and Kiir Mabor hit a pair of 3-pointers to get the Bruins within a point.
The Bruins' problem, Conteh said, was they couldn't stop Pistorius. He scored five points in the final two minutes to put the game away.
"It was a grind, but this is a great team we had to beat to get there," Pistorius said. "I think it gets us ready for the state tournament."