MINOT, N.D. — The moment finally arrived for Kindred’s boys basketball team. The Vikings made the four-plus hour bus ride to Minot on Wednesday. They’ll step onto the biggest stage of their basketball careers Thursday.
Kindred snapped a Class B boys basketball state tournament drought that lasted almost 20 years last week. The Vikings downed Fargo Oak Grove 65-51 in the North Dakota Class B, Region 1 championship to earn a berth in the tournament for the first time since 2003.
“We’re getting really excited, or at least I was when we first got here,” said 6-foot-9 senior Gavin Keller. “Starting to kind of relax now and get ready for tomorrow.”
The Vikings enter the state tournament as the fifth seed with an 18-4 mark. They play fourth-seeded Dickinson Trinity (21-3) at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Minot State Dome. The Titans were ranked No. 5 in the final NDAPSSA Class B boys basketball poll.
“I’m feeling confident and excited, just like the rest of us are,” junior Jaiden Peraza said. “We worked hard to get here and we just gotta start from scratch again.”
Peraza, like many of his teammates, wasn’t born yet when Kindred last made it to a state tournament.
“I really wanted it,” Keller said. “It’s been four years in the program. We’ve gotten so close and we’ve kind of worked our way up. It’s a really good feeling.”
Excitement aside, the Vikings know they have a job to do. They arrived in Minot on Wednesday afternoon, and almost immediately got to work. They’re not looking to correct much ahead of Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup, but hope to emulate their play from the region tournament.
“We’ve just gotta stay focused and remember why we're here, and just because we're here doesn't mean we can take it for granted,” Peraza said. “We gotta play just like the regionals.”
Peraza, a 6-foot-4 forward, scored 17 points last Thursday to help lift Kindred to the Region 1 crown. Keller also tallied 17.
Keller, who will play basketball at Concordia, averages 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to lead Kindred in scoring. Paul Olson, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, averages 11.6 points per game.
“We play really well together and we play good defense,” Keller said on the keys to his team’s success this season. “We have good team chemistry and work well as a team.”
The old adage “defense wins championships” has been Kindred’s mantra this season. The energy off defense has fed the team’s offense for 18 wins this season, and the Vikings will be taking that motto as far as they can go.
Kindred averages 60.7 points per game, while allowing its opponents 42.3.
The Vikings were riding a nine-game win streak before losing the last two games of the regular season. Kindred’s four losses have come against ranked teams.
Kindred has a height advantage over the Titans, with eight players over 6-foot-3, compared to Trinity’s three.
“We’ll have to use our size well and know how to use it,” Keller said. “Still, get good shots.”
The Vikings also get production and presence from 6-foot-5 junior Max McQuillan, who averages 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds, as well as 6.8 assists per game.
Tanner Soehren leads Trinity in scoring with 13.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. Jake Daniel averages 11.7 points for the Titans. Cole Fitterer rounds up Trinity’s attack with 9.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Thursday’s 9 p.m. start will be later than the Vikings are used to, but Keller and Peraza said the team isn’t worried about that. They’ll be ready.