CANDO - Rugby wasn't especially fluid in its 42-37 edging of third-ranked Cavalier on Friday night, but the Panthers affirmed they can play with Class B's top-shelf clubs.
Ninth-ranked Rugby (7-0) also proved it's more than a one-trick pony in the non-district contest at North Star School.
The Panthers, typically paced by high-scoring guard Kyle Lovcik, leaned on sophomore Brad Heidlebaugh against the highly touted Tornadoes.
Rugby’s Kyle Lovcik attacks the basket during the ninth-ranked Panthers’ 42-37 win over No. 3 Cavalier on Friday night at North Star School.
The 6-foot-3 post helped Rugby overcome a sluggish night offensively, pumping in a team-high 20 points including seven down the stretch to stave off a Cavalier comeback.
"It was ugly at times but we scored when we needed to," Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. "We've known that (Heidlebaugh) was going to be a big part of our team this year and he showed that tonight."
Josh Michels' long jumper gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the contest at 39-31 late in the fourth quarter, but Cavalier stalwart Ryan Chrest (21 points) wouldn't let the lead grow.
Chrest, a 6-foot-3 guard, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a 39-37 game with barely more than a minute to play. Heidlebaugh answered with a strong move down low and the Tornadoes didn't get any closer.
"I was just playing into our offense," Heidlebaugh said. "I wasn't forcing anything and just shot when things came to me."
With both teams ice cold from the field, neither could get into its usual up-and-down pace. Lovcik, who scored 11, usually benefits from the transition style of play but Heidlebaugh was the beneficiary in half-court sets.
"We have guys that can shoot and score," Santjer said. "But with his ability to score inside that's big for us. He's put in a lot of work over the summer."
The contest was close throughout but an 11-5 third quarter boosted the Panthers, who trailed by a point at intermission.
Neither team was efficient at the foul line, with the Panthers going 5-for-14 and the Tornadoes 11-for-21.
"I got a bit nervous (after Chrest's 3)," Heidlebaugh said. "But I knew we could pull it off. It was a good win for us."
Rugby hosts top-ranked North Star tonight.