WEST FARGO — Devils Lake is the only girls basketball team in the East Region to boast an undefeated overall record. The Firebirds don't want that taken from them, and with Friday's road win over West Fargo, the No. 2-ranked team in the state will stay unbeaten.
The Firebirds came back after being down at halftime to record a 75-70 win over West Fargo (2-3) in an Eastern Dakota Conference girls basketball battle. Senior guard Maya Barendt tallied 18 points and made four 3-pointers to help her team remain undefeated.
After a runner-up state finish a season ago and graduating six seniors, including an All-State player and a couple all-conference athletes, a strong start to this year was paramount for the Firebirds.
"We're playing a little bit short, and the young kids are still kind of developing," Devils Lake head coach Justin Klein said. "So I think that's good to start off on a positive note and to not just all of a sudden get down on yourself, and now you have to try to build that back up."
It hasn't been easy for the Firebirds to pick up past wins at West Fargo High School. And with 13 days ago being the last game Devils Lake played, Friday night's win was a big feat, Klein said.
"Any time we can win on the road is huge. And we've kind of struggled here (in West Fargo) in the past," Klein said. "I've been here 13 years, and we've probably won here three or four times. So it's a huge win."
With the win, Devils Lake rose to 5-0 overall and an identical markup in the EDC. Fargo Davies is the only other team unbeaten in East Region conference play.
It didn't take long for the Firebirds to get on the board thanks to a Jes Mertens jump shot. Mertens, an All-EDC player last year, put up all of Devils Lake's first five points.
West Fargo's 6-foot sophomore forward Jessica Walsvik answered, finding the net for the Packers on a McKenna Becher pass. Chloe Pfau, who tallied seven of West Fargo's first 13 points, gave the Packers an early 13-5 lead. Walsvik led the Packers with 15 points.
The Firebirds quickly cut the margin on a Jailyn Martinson bucket and Barendt 3-pointer. After being down by eight, it wasn't long before Devils Lake tied it up with a pair of Abby Johnson free throws.
The Packers quickly took the lead back as Brynn Giesen, who tallied 14 points, netted a 3-pointer and Becher found Walsvik from outside the line. But Barendt drilled another 3 with ease and Devils Lake was up by one.
A seven-point spurt put the Packers out front, and they held onto that margin until the final minute of the aggressive, back-and-forth first half.
Mertens went coast to coast to put up a quick two for Devils Lake. A Ramsey Brown bucket in the last four seconds before the buzzer rang closed the gap to three.
The Firebirds had to make a few adjustments on offense after the first half. Klein, who was named the EDC and state coach of the year last season, said his offense was a bit stagnant, and that his team didn't move or rotate the ball very well right off the bat.
"We start on defense how our offense starts, and I think we got some steals and got some quick outlets and transitions that started us," Klein said. "And we kind of got back into the flow. I thought we just looked a little stale at first, maybe looked a little tired. Shouldn't really be when you haven't played and you've practiced, but getting back after break, things aren't always the most crisp as what you would like."
Martinson chipped in three of Devils Lake's seven-point surge to help the Firebirds grab an early second-half lead.
After struggling a bit to capitalize in the second, a Giesen 3-pointer swung some momentum in the Packers' favor. Six straight Diemert points brought West Fargo within one, but the Firebirds drew two fouls and added a quick four points.
Lauren Van Winkle got her first basket of the night from beyond the arc on a Becher and Diemert pass to help the Packers come within three points with two minutes to go.
In the final minute, Mertens sunk a pair of free throws on a Becher foul. In an attempt to carry her team to a comeback, Diemert went in for a layup with 30 seconds left, but missed, and the Firebirds drew a foul and made the ensuing free throw.
Down by four with 11 seconds remaining as "The Final Countdown" blared through the gym, Johnson drew another foul and the free throws set up the game-clinching score.
The Packers host Valley City (2-3, 1-2 EDC) at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Half: West Fargo 35, Devils Lake 32
DL: Barendt 18, Johnson 14, Martinson 14, Mertens 14, Brown 13, Krogfoss 2.
WF: Walsvik 15, Giesen 14, Diemert 11, Simon 10, Pfau 9, Becher 6, Van Winkle 5.