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Spoilers learned game at young age: Tough ending for top-ranked Wolves

Grafton seniors like Anthony Kliniske were fourth graders when their run for a state championship started. That's the year Grafton parents organized a youth basketball program to teach kids the fundamentals of the game. Saturday night in the Farg...

Grafton seniors like Anthony Kliniske were fourth graders when their run for a state championship started.

That's the year Grafton parents organized a youth basketball program to teach kids the fundamentals of the game. Saturday night in the Fargodome, those parents and kids were celebrating a North Dakota Class B state championship - the school's first in 44 years.

"We had some very tough times in basketball there for awhile," said Grafton assistant coach Greg Feltman. "So a group of parents got together and formed a youth board, raised some money and paid coaches to teach our kids the fundamentals."

It certainly paid off after Grafton claimed a 53-42 win over Turtle Lake-Mercer.

Grafton, often known as a hockey town, last won a state title in 1964 when the boys basketball team was competing in Class A. Grafton's last Class B title came in 1937 - four years after its first title in 1934.

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Feltman, who played for Grafton from 1978 to 1980, never got to play in a state tournament. His team lost state-qualifying games to Wahpeton and Fargo Shanley his junior and senior years.

"This is finally a nice treat," said Feltman, who coached some of this year's Grafton players as sixth and eighth graders. "They are just a great bunch of kids."

Wade Herbel, another Grafton assistant coach, played in four state tournaments for Grafton from 1983 to 1987. But the closest he got to a state title was a fourth-place finish.

Herbel had a sense this year's team had what it took after posting three straight wins late in the season against North Border (65-54), East Grand Forks (45-43) and Park River (65-62).

"I think the kids realized then that if they can play three quality games in a row, they had a good chance to win state," Herbel said.

Kliniske, the 6-foot-6 senior who was a unanimous all-tournament selection, remembers the days of youth basketball - playing in tournaments in Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Crookston.

"We can attribute a lot of our success to that," said Kliniske, who was asked what he learned from the youth program. "Having fun."

He was Saturday night.

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Watford City entered the state tournament ranked No. 1 in the final Class B media poll and unbeaten.

The Wolves exited with two consecutive losses after falling to LaMoure 53-50 for third place.

"It's disappointing to make it all the way to state and lose two games in a row," said Watford City senior forward Justin Shipman, a Mr. Basketball finalist. "But we're still 25-2. You have to feel good about that."

The Wolves players all wore maroon T-shirts under their maroon jerseys and also sported cranked maroon socks for the third-place game.

"It was the last game of the season," said Shipman, who took off his undershirt midway through the game. "We were having some fun. We've never worn the high socks before."

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