The Rugby boys basketball team is the top-ranked team in the state for a reason.
While junior forward Brad Heidlebaugh is Rugby's top scorer, the No. 1 Panthers are far more than a one-dimensional team.
So when Berthold keyed in on the 6-foot-4 post, Rugby's supporting cast stepped up and led the Panthers to the Region 6 championship game. Senior Jaedon Haman (14 points) and juniors Zach Miller (14) and Tanner Bernhardt (13) all finished in double figures along with Heidlebaugh (12) in Rugby's 64-50 victory over No. 10 Berthold on Tuesday in the region semifinals at the Minot State Dome. The Panthers play No. 7 Des Lacs-Burlington in the region championship Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Rugby senior guard Jaedon Haman goes up for a layup past the Berthold defense during a Region 6 semifinal game Tuesday at the Minot State Dome.
Haman scored 10 of his team's 21 points in the first quarter, knocking down three consecutive shots for the Panthers (24-0). Rugby led 21-13 after one quarter.
"I knew they were probably going to give me some looks," Haman said. "With Brad and Zach in the middle and Tanner on the wing, they have a lot to deal with. I just came out and (the ball) was coming off the hand well during warm-ups and just kept shooting."
Heidlebaugh picked up his second foul with 2:30 left in the opening quarter and had just four points at halftime. Even with Heidlebaugh on the bench, the Panthers stretched their lead to 24-13 early in the second quarter after Bernhardt knocked down his first of three 3-pointers.
Heidlebaugh returned with 5:52 remaining in the first half, but didn't record another point heading into the intermission. The Panthers scored just 11 points in the second quarter and the Bombers (20-4) went on a 9-0 run to pull even at 32 at halftime. Berthold senior Ryan Ross hit a 3 to pull within two before classmate Mitchel White scored his only basket of the game with 59 seconds left in the half to tie the game.
"We needed to take more pride in our defense than we did," Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. "We got up by 11 and almost settled in and thought 'We're good, we're going to ride this out for the rest of the game.' We knew they were going to go on a run because they're too good of a shooting team."
The halftime break came at an unfortunate time for Berthold, which couldn't hit a shot in the third quarter. The Bombers hit one shot and scored just four points in the third as the Panthers grabbed a 49-36 lead. Berthold's Adam Knudsvig had all four of those points for the Bombers.
"We couldn't find the bottom of the net," Berthold coach Chris Brown said. "Their size took a toll on us. I wish we could have just stayed out there during our run. We felt like we had them on the ropes. At halftime they made some good adjustments, but the main thing was we couldn't make a (basket). The reason was because they are a great defensive team."
Bernhardt hit two more 3s in the second half and Miller scored eight points in the final 16 minutes before fouling out with 1:42 left. Bernhardt also finished with a game-high six assists and senior guard Chris Hamilton grabbed nine rebounds and dished out five helpers.
"Jaedon came up huge," Santjer said. "He knocked down a lot of big shots for us. Tanner kind of did what he needed to do: hit some 3s when we were needing some energy. Zach Miller had a great second half. That's the Zach Miller we hope to see for 32 minutes come Thursday."
Knudsvig led all scorers with 18 points and Berthold junior guard Austin Lee finished with 17, but went 4-for-19 from the floor and made 1 of 7 from behind the arc.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.