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