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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Mustangs advance to first state championship in school history

Joe Pistorius of West Fargo is fouled by Kemal Hajric of West Fargo Sheyenne during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 8
Christian Kuntz, left, and Kemal Hajric of West Fargo Sheyenne reach not a loose ball with Luke Lennon of West Fargo during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 8
Christian Kuntz of West Fargo Sheyenne drives around Brett Liebl of West Fargo during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 8
Joe Pistorius of West Fargo reaches over Kemal Hajric of West Fargo Sheyenne for a rebound during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service4 / 8
Abdi Sufi, right, of West Fargo and Elijah Charles of West Fargo Sheyenne compete for a rebound as Kemal Hajric looks on during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service5 / 8
Kemal Hajric of West Fargo Sheyenne pulls in a West Fargo rebound during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service6 / 8
Zach Westphal of West Fargo Sheyenne performs a layup in front of Tanner Zepeda West Fargo during their North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service7 / 8
West Fargo Sheyenne celebrates their 69-63 defeat of West Fargo in the North Dakota Class A Boys Basketball semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2018, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service8 / 8

FARGO—The four-year history of the rivalry between West Fargo and West Fargo Sheyenne has seen plenty of exhilarating contests. But none were with higher stakes than Friday, March 9. Beating the Packers for the second time this season was going to be a tall order, but Sheyenne's Christian Kuntz said nobody believed in his team anway.

Kuntz and the Mustangs wanted to prove themselves, and for the first time ever, the Mustangs are going to the state championship.

The East Region No. 1-seeded Mustangs pulled out a 69-63 win over the East Region No. 3-seeded Packers in the North Dakota Class A boys basketball state semifinals at North Dakota State's Scheels Center.

"We believed from the first day of practice. Nobody really believed in us," Kuntz said. "We went out and had to prove ourselves every game. That's how we got here."

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.

"We all love each other. I just wanted to keep it going," Sheyenne's Zach Westphal said. "We were really positive."

The Mustangs took an early lead, and the Packers took their first lead of the game with about 9:30 left in the first half on a score by East Region leading scorer Joe Pistorius. The Mustangs quickly took the lead back and scored 12 unanswered points as Kuntz scored 10 of the Mustangs' first 26 points on their way to an eight-point lead at intermission. Kuntz finished with a team-high 23 points and two assists.

"I just tried to bring energy and help the team in any way I can," Kuntz said. "That's what I was trying to do."

The Packers and Mustangs went back and forth after halftime, but the Mustangs got a lift from Westphal, their leading scorer. He totaled 11 points in the second half to end the game with 15.

Westphal and Kuntz said their team got an emotional lift by Kemal Hajric. The Mustangs go-to big man was hampered by an ankle injury but did everything he could to make it back onto the court. Hajric only scored three points but totaled a game-high 14 rebounds and gave the Mustangs a much-needed presence in the paint.

"He's the heart and soul of our team," Westphal said. "When he came back in the game, we had to get this 'W' for him."

The Packers got to within four points with less than 30 seconds to go on an Abdi Sufi 3-pointer, but the Mustangs made enough free throws down the stretch to get the win.

With a game-high 24 points, Pistorius, the East Region senior athlete of the year, broke West Fargo's school record for points scored in a season set by Scott Majkrzak in 1996-97.

"They made some shots early on, and we just didn't make shots. You have to score if you want to win," Packers head coach Adam Palczewski said. "They played well."

The Mustangs were picked sixth in a preseason poll in the East Region. Kuntz said they used that as motivation all throughout the year to prove they were better.

Now they take on West Region No. 1 seed Bismarck Century in the state title game.

"It's not going to be easy, that's for sure," Kuntz said. "We're going to battle it out and play with heart like we have all season."

WEST FARGO (22-4): Pistorius 6 10-13 24, Sufi 6 2-3 15, Lennon 6 2-6 14, Liebl 2 0-0 5, Zepeda 2 0-0 5, Moton 0 0-0 0, Lyman 0 0-2 0, Holaday 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0-0 0, Mertz 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 14-24 63.

WEST FARGO SHEYENNE (22-4): Kuntz 8 4-7 23, Westphal 4 7-7 15, Ballestad 3 0-0 8, Berg 3 2-2 8, Charles 2 2-2 7, Hajric 1 1-12 3, Terhark 1 0-2 3, Dubois 1 0-0 2, Williams 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 16-22 69.

Half: WFS 31, WF 23. 3-point goals: Kuntz 3, Pistorius 2, Ballestad 2, Sufi 1, Liebl 1, Zepeda 1, Charles 1, Terhark 1. Total fouls: WF 18, WFS 20. Fouled out: Sufi. Rebounds: WF 37 (Lennon 10), WFS 36 (Hajric 14). Assists: WF 6 (Pistorius 2), WFS 6 (three tied for two). Turnovers: WF 8, WFS 14.

Colton Pool

Pool is a reporter for The West Fargo Pioneer covering city sports and community news. He was the sports editor for The Dickinson Press covering Dickinson State athletics, high school athletics and Southwest Speedway. He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in journalism and a minor in English. You can reach him by phone at 701-451-5715 or tweet him @CPoolReporter. 

(701) 451-5715
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