Packers dominate Central on both sides of the ball to clinch state boys basketball berth
West Fargo, the defending Class A state champion, locked up the East's No. 3 seed for next week's state tournament with the win over Grand Forks Central
FARGO — West Fargo wasn’t happy with its performance on Thursday in the East Region boys basketball semifinals. The Packers were outrebounded and had multiple players in foul trouble.
They channeled that frustration on Saturday in a state tournament play-in game against Grand Forks Central. The third-seeded Packers dominated No. 8 seed Central from start to finish as they pulled off a 79-54 win at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
“We were pretty bitter about how we played on Thursday and we knew we needed to play our hearts out to go to the state tournament,” West Fargo senior forward Nick Carlson said. “We all knew that there was a possibility that this could be our last game together.”
Carlson made sure it wasn’t. The 6-foot-4 senior forward poured in a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds for the Packers (18-6), who will have a chance to defend their state title. West Fargo locked up the East’s No. 3 seed for the Class A state tournament, which will be held March 10-12 at Bismarck Event Center.
“We’re ready to get back to work for Minot or Bismarck,” Carlson said.
The Packers, the defending Class A state champions, will play Minot or Bismarck in the state quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 10. Central finished its season at 9-16.
If the defending state champions felt any pressure heading into Saturday’s state qualifier, the Packers certainly didn’t show it. West Fargo jumped out to a 15-6 lead on buckets from five different players.
The Packers offense hit its stride early and scored almost every time it went down the floor. West Fargo, which was outrebounded 41-24 in Thursday’s 75-62 loss to West Fargo Sheyenne, won the battle of the boards against Central 42-33. The Packers also committed 12 less fouls on Saturday as they did against Sheyenne.
“We played like a mature basketball team,” West Fargo head coach Adam Palczewski said. “And gotta give Central credit; they never quit. They hit some good shots, they got it closer. I was proud of our guys and how they played hard the entire game because we knew what was on the line.”
Central struggled to capitalize on several offensive possessions against a stout Packers defense that forced the Knights outside. West Fargo didn't let Central string together more than two consecutive baskets at a time all half.
Carlson, who also had five steals, scored all 13 points in a 13-5 run that stretched West Fargo's lead to 26-11. He shot 70% (7 of 10) from the floor and tallied 16 points for the Packers in the first half.
The Knights had some defensive stops down the stretch, but every time Central made a run, West Fargo had an answer. The Packers shot 48% from the floor in the opening half and held a 38-24 advantage at the end of the first frame. Erick Paye started strong for Central with 10 first-half points on 5-for-8 shooting.
Carlson said the key to West Fargo’s dominant victory was transition offense.
“We run a full-court press all the time to try and speed them up so that they take bad shots,” Carlson said. “And once we get the rebound we just go go go, fill the lanes and score.”
Jaden Grefsrud finished with 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the floor for the Packers, to go along with five rebounds. Foday Sheriff was West Fargo’s third double-digit scorer with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
The Knights got within 10 points twice early in the second half on 3-point baskets by Tanner Piepkorn and Ross Wilber. Wilber drilled three 3s early in the second frame to help chip away at Central's deficit, but the momentum was short-lived.
West Fargo pushed its advantage right back out to 16 at 62-46 on a pair of Sheriff free throws, a Carson Hegerle putback and Grefsrud bucket. The Packers kept their foot on the gas for the duration of the game and limited Central to one basket in the final three minutes.
The Knights were led by Wilber’s 19 points. Paye finished with eight rebounds, three blocks and 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting for Central.
Next week’s state tournament will mark West Fargo's 18th appearance since 2002.