It all came down to Monday evening.
The no.4-seed Westhope-Newburg Sioux upset both the defending champion Drake-Anamoose Raiders and the no.1-seed Bottineau Braves in extremely close games to advance to the final round of the District 11 Boys Basketball tournament in Rugby.
Meanwhile the no. 2-seed Rugby Panthers ran through the no. 7-seed Nedrose Cardinals and defeated the no. 3-seed Towner-Granville-Upham Titans in a close matchup to advance to the finals.
The Panthers would come out of Monday evening's game with their fourth district title in five years, defeating the Sioux 50-36.
The Panthers were first to act with a boomer from forward Chris Griffin. Forward Trace Goven and all-district team member and senior athlete Anders Johnson would be quick to follow, each with 1-for-2 trips from the foul line. The Sioux then responded soon after, staring with Logan Lamoureux and Tate Wyman-who proved dangerous from outside early in the tournament. Wyman's two three-point makes briefly gave the Sioux the lead.
The Panthers took back the lead on layups from Goven and Griffin, ending the first quarter just three points ahead.
The up-and-down game would continue in the second quarter, with the Sioux tying it up with trips to the line for guard A.J. Jiles and center Mason Mach. The Panthers briefly took the lead back on a boomer from guard Landen Foster, to which Dawson Dunham responded in-kind after coming off the bench.
The Sioux briefly had the lead again following a make from outside from Jiles. The Panthers then went to work with a 10-point run in the paint, starting with Goven. Griffin then followed with six points, two of them coming off a fast break. Johnson then chipped in two in the final seconds, putting the Panthers ahead by five going into halftime.
"We had to slow it down to stay in the game," said Sioux head coach Anthony Lee of the first half.
The Panthers switched the tempo of the game in the second half, outscoring the Sioux 19-7 in the third quarter. Like the first quarter, Lamoureux and Wyman would be the sole scorers in the third quarter, with most of the points coming from Wyman at the line.
The fourth quarter would be a different story, with the Sioux outscoring the Panthers 8-5 in a quarter marred by missed buckets.
"We knew that we had to try and slow [Wyman and Lamoureaux] down and tonight only allowing [the Sioux] 36 points when they were in the 70s the last two games was a really good effort by our kids," said Panthers head coach Mike Santjer.
The Panthers face a familiar opponent in the first round of the region tournament on Monday (March 6) at 6 p.m. at the Minot State University Dome: the Lewis & Clark-Berthold Bombers, who were one of Rugby's nine losses in the regular season and the fourth seed out of District 12.
"The first time we played [the Bombers] we weren't quite very healthy," Santjer said, "so hopefully between now and then we can stay healthy. It's going to be a good game."
The Sioux play the 4:30 p.m game against District 12's third seed: the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers.