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Shanley boys rely on defense to win region opener

FARGO—A coach once told Jake Kava that a defense is like a hand. Five fingers separately aren't nearly as strong as when they combine to make a fist. Fargo Shanley boys basketball players combined for what Kava said was one of Shanley's best defensive performances of the season and hit hard.

The No. 4-seeded Deacons managed to maintain No. 5-seeded Fargo South's offense to a minimum as Shanley grabbed a 79-64 win in the East Region quarterfinals on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Shanley High School. Shanley advances to the East Region semifinals for the first time in four years.

"A fist hits harder. We finally played as a fist," Kava said. "Anytime, you play two or three times in a season, it's going to get chippy. It's playoff basketball, so tempers were going to flare a little bit."

Kava, who fell to the court's hardwood when he crossed paths with a South player going into a timeout, was fine with a physical game. He scored a game-high 28 points on 8 of 15 shooting and made 3 of 8 3-pointers. Tom Erie added 17 points and Cam Saville chipped in 16.

Shanley held South to just 22 points in the first half and went into halftime with a nine-point lead. By the time the second half rolled around, the Deacons already had the momentum. For every scoring spurt South mustered, the Deacons scored on a back-breaking possession. The Deacons started the second half on a 14-4 run and continued to cruise from then on. The Bruins cut the lead down to 13 in the final two minutes, but by then it was too late.

Shanley head coach Andrew Burns said the rebounding advantage and keeping the Bruins out of the paint made the difference.

"We did know it was going to be a battle," he said. "They were going to come back and give us a run and a run and a run. We knew that. We kept our composure and kept battling."

Shanley won its last three games of the regular season including a six-point win over South at home to get the No. 4 seed. The Deacons (15-7) were going to need any advantage they could get.

Shanley, which averaged 70.95 points per game on 42.12 percent shooting in the regular season, shot 28 of 56 (50 percent) from the field against South. South averaged 70.76 points per game on a 49.06 field goal percentage this season, but Shanley forced South to shoot 23 of 63 (36.5 percent) from the field. Kiir Mabor led the Bruins with 20 points on 5 of 12 shooting.

South (14-8), which also hasn't been to the conference semifinals since 2014, will play in the consolation semifinals against No. 8 seed Wahpeton.

"We have to come angry. It's win or go home, so we have to win. Losing isn't an option," Mabor said. "We can't lose anymore. It's simple."

Shanley, on the other hand, advanced to the semifinals to play top-seeded Fargo Davies at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at North Dakota State's Scheels Center.

"It's been awhile for our school," Kava said. "We just want to go there and represent."

Halftime: S 31, FS 22

FS: Lahai 3, O'Keeffe 10, Carlson 3, Mabor 20, Johnson 2, Conteh 17, Weisenberger 7, Bennington 2.

S: Haffer 6, Saville 15, Erie 17, Mehlisch 4, Ja. Kava 28, Jo. Kava 9.

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. 

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