An inspired performance from North Star in the Region 4 championship delivered the Bearcats a Class B state tournament rematch with Beulah ... at last.
The two squads, which battled to a frenzy of a finish in the 2012 state championship, square off at 8:15 tonight at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks in the first round of the state tourney.
It's a fitting showdown, considering that everything that was supposed to occur for North Star last year is happening for the Bearcats at this very moment instead.
Harry Lipsiea/Devils Lake Journal
Junior Christian Kvilvang leads North Star in scoring at 18.9 points per game. The Bearcats face Beulah today in the first round of the Class B state tournament in Grand Forks.
A Region 4 championship win over Four Winds-Minnewaukan and another shot at Beulah appeared inevitable in 2013.
The Miners knocked off three undefeated teams in the 2012 state tournament, with the final opponent being North Star. In 2013, they seemed to be on a collision course.
The Bearcats held the top spot in the rankings for much of the year before Beulah upset them and swiped the No. 1 ranking through the final poll.
Then a funny thing happened: second-ranked North Star fell to No. 5 FW-M and missed out on state. Upset city.
The top-ranked Miners' season also capsized before the big dance, taking their lone loss of the year in the Region 7 championship to Dickinson Trinity. No one saw it coming.
"I think a lot of people predicted that we were going to play them last year in the state tournament," North Star coach Jeff Hagler said. "We met the previous year in the title game, both teams had a lot coming back."
Fast-forward to February 2014. A week ago, something even more head-scratching took place. Unranked North Star - sans graduated stars Jacob Hagler and Dan Grande - knocked off fifth-ranked FW-M, the heavy favorite, in double overtime on the back of junior Alex Weston's clutch 3-point shot-making.
Weston, a 6-foot-6 forward, drilled a trey to send the game to overtime and delivered in the extra periods from behind the arc to shock the Indians 65-64. He tallied 30 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in the vengeful victory.
"He really stepped up," Hagler said. "I know there'd been a lot made of last year's region championship when he was held scoreless. He'd been looking for this opportunity and if he got that chance again he was going to take advantage of it and he definitely did."
Now, after all this time, it's North Star (18-7) and Beulah (19-5) primed to duke it out under the bright lights.
Weston and 6-5 junior guard Christian Kvilvang handle much of the scoring load for North Star. Kvilvang posts 18.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Weston's numbers are nearly identical at 18.5 points and 7.6 boards a contest.
"Obviously our team is a lot different (this year)," Hagler said. "We've gone from where most of our scoring punch came from our guards and now our scoring punch is coming from big guys. The thing is, they're big guys but they don't play like big guys. Both of them will bring the ball up the floor for us if they have to. They can both post up.
"We're not quite as dynamic as we've been in the past, but we're capable of scoring some points."
Freshman guard Jayden Komrosky averages 10.8 points and 4.0 assists and classmate Johnny Heisler tosses in 8.9 points and 4.5 assists.
North Star's team stats - 65.3 points and 49.9 points against per game, 18th and 17th in Class B, respectively - are hardly overwhelming. But they've yielded seven straight wins for the Bearcats, who haven't lost in a month.
"Overall, we want to make sure we control the tempo and stay out of foul trouble," Hagler said. "Those will be two huge keys for us. ... If we can do that, we'll be able to compete and have a chance coming down the stretch."
The Bearcats are thrilled to still have a chance - any chance - at a state title. They've got their rematch with Beulah, it's just not the season most expected it. They needed a wild win over FW-M to secure both.
"We've been trying to figure that out for the last week how we ended up winning that game," Hagler said with a laugh.
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.