Packers boys come back in overtime to top Jamestown in state quarterfinals
With less than a minute to go in overtime, the ball was in the hands of West Fargo senior Joe Pistorius. The Class A quarterfinal matchup at North Dakota State's Scheels Center was tied. Earlier in the day, Pistorius was named North Dakota's Gatorade Player of the Year. And in the final minutes of regulation his technical foul began a Jamestown comeback that had West Fargo eyeing defeat.
"I lost us a chance to win the game, so once we got another chance, I knew I had to go out there and prove myself that I'm not going to do that ever again and I need to come back from that and not show weakness," Pistorius said. "I'm not weak. I came out stronger in the overtime."
Pistorius drove and sank a floater to put West Fargo up by two points with 41.3 seconds in overtime. On the other end, West Fargo senior Abdi Sufi swatted away Boden Skunberg's shot to tie the game. Sufi rebounded Pistorius' miss on a fastbreak on the other end and sank a layup to push the lead to four en route to an 85-81 win for the Packers on Thursday, March 8.
"It was definitely a team effort," said Pistorius, who finished with 29 points. "Everybody put in their part."
The Packers went on to take fourth place in the state tournament. The East Region No. 3-seeded Packers lost in the state semifinals to East Region No. 1 seed and in-city rival West Fargo Sheyenne 69-63 on Friday, March 9, then lost to West Region No. 3 seed Mandan 104-79 in the third-place game on Saturday, March 10.
West Fargo senior Tanner Zepeda said he was sad that his playing career was done, but the state tournament was a good way to go out. Zepeda said he'll remember his longtime teammates and classmates for a long time. He feels basketball has him ready for the emotional rollercoaster life will be.
"Even though we lost, we still kind of won," Zepeda said. "We've got a lot of emotions going through here, but there's a lot of good ones more than bad ones. ... I feel like (basketball) made me a better person."
The quarterfinals was seemingly over in regulation. West Fargo was up six on Jamestown with less than two minutes remaining and streaking down the floor was Pistorius. The ball was knocked away, Pistorius said something to the official and got called for a technical foul.
West Fargo watched a 73-67 lead with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining turn into a 75-73 Jamestown lead with 8 seconds remaining behind two technical-foul free throws, a three-point play for John Horgan, a fadeaway from Mason Walters and a free throw.
Zepeda sprinted down the court, was trapped underneath the basket, but found Luke Lennon wide open for a layup at the buzzer to tie the game and send it to overtime. The game was tied four times before Pistorius found redemption and Sufi's hand found Jamestown's shot attempt.
"Game's not over until the horn blows," said Sufi, who finished with 22 points. "We just kept playing until the horn blew."
In the semifinals, the Mustangs held the Packers to their lowest scoring total of the season. The Packers shot 34 percent from the field while the Mustangs shot 47 percent and 41 percent from 3-point range. The Mustangs also scored 13 points off turnovers.
With a game-high 24 points, Pistorius, the North Dakota senior athlete of the year, broke West Fargo's school record for points scored in a season set by Scott Majkrzak in 1996-97.
After trailing for most of the game, the Packers got to within four points with less than 30 seconds to go on a Sufi 3-pointer, but the Mustangs made enough free throws down the stretch to get the win.
"I coach the best kids in the state," Packers head coach Adam Palczewski said. "They're young men I can be really proud of. They acted with class. The score is irrelevant because they're going to be good husbands and fathers."
Pistorius shot 8-for-17 and 4-for-10 from 3-point range for 22 points for the Packers as they lost to Mandan in the state tournament third-place game. Zepeda added 17 points and three assists and Sufi recorded 13 points and six rebounds.
"It's sad to see the time is up with these guys, but I'm happy I got the chance to play with them," Packers senior PJ Holaday said. "Basketball, it's fun to play with all these guys, but making memories is super important."
Senior Brett Liebl had a cut and multiple bruises on his face from the physical game against Jamestown. It was swollen, but Liebl said he'll be fine. He said he'll always remember practices and the life lessons he learned from his coaching.
"It doesn't matter how good of a player you are, it's what you do in life that makes you the man you are," Liebl said. "It was a blast."