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Rugby girls reach state title game with win over Hettinger-Scranton

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Rugby players celebrate their 42-35 win over Hettinger-Scranton in Friday's North Dakota Class B girls state basketball tournament semifinal game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS - A year ago, the Rugby girls basketball team was upset as the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals of the North Dakota Class B state tournament.

“After last year, I thought we had some unfinished business to take care of,” Rugby coach Jen Brossart said.

This year, it’s the Panthers pulling off the upsets.

Unseeded Rugby landed in the program’s first-ever state championship game with a 42-35 win over No. 5 Hettinger-Scranton on Friday in the state semifinals at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Rugby, 22-4, also beat No. 1 Kidder County on Thursday night.

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The Panthers will need to make it three upsets in a row as Kindred, also unseeded, will enter the title game as the favorite. Rugby and Kindred meet at 8 p.m. in Saturday’s championship.

“This is what we’ve been working for for years,” Brossart said. “Minot Ryan stood in our way for a long time.”

Rugby and Hettinger-Scranton were even most of the way until an 8-0 run over a three-minute span in the fourth quarter allowed the Panthers to pull away. Hettinger-Scranton’s Bailee Pierce hit a 3-pointer with 4:30 left to give the Night Hawks a 31-30 lead.

That’s when Rugby rattled off eight straight, led by a pair of baskets from Maria Blessum, the second of which gave Rugby a 38-31 advantage with 1:10 remaining.

“We lost our composure a little bit,” Hettinger-Scranton coach Kelly Pierce said. “We didn’t stick to running the offense. We didn’t move the basketball the way we needed to. We played a good basketball team, too. I thought their experience showed.”

The Night Hawks, who dropped to 24-2, were led by Alyssa Andress (17 points) and Samantha Oase (14 points). Andress and Oase were a combined 15-for-27 from the field, while the rest of the team went 1-for-19 on field goals.

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Rugby was paced by Anni Stier’s 17 points. Blessum had 10, while Karsyn Hager had seven.

The Panthers won despite shooting 28 percent from the field and 1-for-10 from the 3-point line.

“What a defensive battle,” Brossart said. “Hettinger-Scranton brought it defensively tonight. In the second half, we did a much better job slowing down and seeing what the defense was giving us before rushing into anything.”

H 6 13 22 35

R 8 15 26 42

HS: Andress 17, Oase 14, Pierce 3, Kludt 1.

R: Stier 17, M. Blessum 10, Hager 7, S. Blessum 6, B. Blessum 2.

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