Roughriders win Class A girls title to end program's long championship drought
The Red River Roughriders bested the Bismarck Century Patriots in the North Dakota Class A girls basketball tournament for their first title since 1988.
FARGO — Against all odds, the Grand Forks Roughriders prevailed to become the No. 1 team in North Dakota Class A girls basketball.
The Roughriders defeated the Century Patriots 61-48 in the championship game on Saturday at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
The journey to the top did not come easy for Red River, which entered the tournament as the No. 4 team from the East Region.
In the opening round, the team needed to beat the West Region's No. 1 team the Minot Magicians. Through grit and perseverance, the Roughriders came out on top 50-43.
The win put Red River face-to-face with the West Fargo Packers. After losing 57-50 in the region quarterfinals, the Roughriders came in with urgency and won 54-51 in the semifinals.
With all odds against them, Red River defeated the high-flying Bismarck Century.
"It feels pretty remarkable," Roughrider Cassidy O'Halloran said of the championship. "We were voted least likely to win this tournament. It feels great to prove everyone wrong."
Red River's ace Jocelyn Schiller helped guide the team's historic postseason run. She said only her team believed what they were capable of.
"People didn't think too much of us at the beginning of the year." Schiller said. "But we knew what we could do and to come out on top is a crazy feeling."
Schiller set a tournament record with 34 points, including an 18 for 21 night from the free-throw line.
"Anything to get the win," Schiller said of the record-breaking night. "If my team's open I'm giving them the ball, but if anything's open for me I'm taking it."
Schiller also had five assists, three rebounds and two steals. She was named tournament MVP.
The Roughriders took command in the first half with Schiller at the helm. She scored 18 points in the half with 10 coming on free throws.
The Patriots, who were lights out beyond the arc in the semifinals, hit just 2 of 10 3-pointers and 7 for 26 from the field overall in the first half.
Red River led 36-22 at halftime.
Century pieced together a strong start to the second half. The Patriots went on a 9-1 run to start and Schiller's three-point play with 11:31 to play was Red River's first field goal of the second half.
But Schiller made key plays in the final five minutes to help the Roughriders stave off Century. She hit a 3-pointer with 4:29 left for a 45-40 lead, then after a Red River miss, Schiller sped between two Century players to scoop up the loose ball and she tossed in a two-handed reverse layup for a 47-40 lead with 3:48 to play.
O'Halloran nailed a 3-pointer with 3:03 to play to make it 50-40 and Schiller made a steal on a Century inbounds play with two minutes left. Schiller then drove the lane, lofted in an eight-foot one-handed push shot, drew a foul and hit the foul shot for a 53-40 lead with 90 seconds to play. The 10-0 Red River run in a three-minute span locked up the win.
Red River shot 16 for 54 from the field and made 25 of 31 free throws. O'Halloran scored 10 points with six rebounds and two steals. Rylie McQuillan had seven points, six boards and three steals.
The Patriots' Logan Nissley, who was later named Class A Senior Athlete of the Year, had 16 points and five rebounds. Bergan Kinnebrew had 12 points, two blocks and two steals. Eden Fridley had seven points, five rebounds and three assists.
Nissley's accolade provided some positivity for the emotional Bismarck team.
"Everyone was happy because (Nissley) deserves that award," said Century head coach Nate Welstad. "She's a phenomenal player and a generational talent that you can't beat as an individual and a basketball player."
Welstad said seniors like Nissley, Kinnebrew, Gabi Bird and Emma Guthmiller will be missed. But for the rest of his team, some rest in the off-season is needed.
"We'll just try to have a good summer and build," Welstad said. "And try to rebound and get girls into new roles."
Red River loses three seniors with O'Halloran, Amber Johnson and Brooklyn Bergeron graduating this spring.
"I have no words for it," Bergeron said of her last game for the Roughriders. "My team did so good. We put everything out there. I'm just really proud of everyone."
O'Halloran finished out her career for Red River with a championship and joins her mother Julie, who was on the Roughriders' state tournament team in 1988-89.
"She likes to point at the board and say 'That was me,'" O'Halloran said. "So I can't wait until I'm 40 and go do that with my kids."
"I couldn't ask for a better group," Ripplinger said. "They've been great all year. I keep saying, if anybody will listen, these guys are the hardest working team around."