Hamilton’s 36 points carries Rugby to District 11 title

Velva junior Hayden Lee (23) attacks the basket Monday evening against Rugby in the District 11 championship game in Bottineau. Alex Eisen/MDN

BOTTINEAU – Set the feet, rise up and knock down a three. Then, do it over again and again.

The District 11 boys basketball championship game between No. 1-seeded Velva (14-7) and No. 2-seeded Rugby (15-7) featured intense back-and-forth action with a dazzling three-point shooting contest sprinkled in, as the two teams combined to make 19 3-pointers.

Standing in the spotlight all night was Rugby sophomore forward Jaden Hamilton, who buried triple after triple in the first half to ultimately finish with a game-high 36 points.

The Panthers’ offensive catalyst couldn’t be contained and helped Rugby reverse a 10-point defeat to Velva in the regular season with a 73-59 victory Monday evening to defend the program’s district title from a season ago.

“I shot the ball well, I guess,” a modest Hamilton said. “Everything was going in, it seemed like. So, I just kept shooting.”

Alex Eisen/MDN Rugby senior Isaiah Johnson (32) smiles over at Velva junior Hayden Lee (left) after they wrestled for a loose ball Monday evening in the District 11 championship game at Bottineau High School.

Hamilton went off early in the contest with four 3-pointers and had a target on his back the whole game. Yet, Velva still couldn’t lock him down.

“Hamilton,” Velva and District 11 Coach of the Year Isaac Sondrol said was the difference in the game. “The kid didn’t miss. Hats off to him. He did a heck of a job. Our effort was good and we hung around for a long time, but man did they make shots.”

On the back of Hamilton’s long-distance shooting, Rugby held a 18-12 lead after the first quarter and that was expanded to 42-27 going into halftime.

“(Hamilton) can flat out score,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. “He’s one of the best scorers I have ever coached and I have had some really good ones with even a Mr. Basketball in Brad Heidlebaugh (2015). We needed (Hamilton) tonight and he got a lot of the buckets for us. It’s pretty exciting for him.”

Hamilton’s effectiveness and style of play was summed up nicely by his coach.

“He is sneaky,” Santjer said. “He plays like a 40-year-old man in a 16-year-old body. He is not going to blow by you, but he is just shifty enough and shoots well enough that you got to respect everything he does. It works very well for him.”

Velva senior Nick Effertz tried to follow in Hamilton’s footsteps in the second half by knocking a couple long-range triples against Rugby’s deceiving 1-3-1 defensive zone.

Effertz was one of four Aggies to finish in double figures with 16 points. Junior Hayden Lee had a team-high 17 points for Velva with junior Seth Fahy (14), senior Ethan Schepp (10) and senior Hunter Brabandt (2) also scoring.

“We gave up some threes early, and especially in that third quarter,” Santjer said. “We stopped moving a little bit. But, once you get on the court and try playing against (the 1-3-1 zone), it’s pretty tough to throw the ball around. It makes you slow down the tempo and run a half-court offense. It kind of did what we wanted it to do tonight.”

When Hamilton wasn’t scoring, Rugby also got a sizable contribute from All District 11 sophomore guard Trace Goven with 18 points. Senior guard Landen Foster made a layup at the end of the third quarter to put the Panthers up 59-46.

“Other than putting a chaser on him,” Sondrol said could have slowed down Hamilton. “But, if you put a chaser on him, then the rest of their team shoots and scores so well with Goven, (Devan) Michels and Foster. So, it’s hard to put a box-and-one or something on him. Our defense was good, he just didn’t miss.”

Velva got as close as eight points in the fourth quarter on 3-pointer by Effertz, but Rugby kept the tempo slow and the Aggies couldn’t sustain a long scoring run. Velva outscored Rugby 32-31 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.

Regardless of the outcome, both teams are headed to the Region 6 tournament at the Minot State Dome next week.

The Panthers get the first game of the tournament on March 5 at 3 p.m. against District 12 No. 4-seeded Surrey. The Aggies get the last game on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. against District 12 No. 3-seeded Our Redeemer’s.

Also coming out of District 11, following regional qualifier wins, are No. 3-seeded Bottineau after beating Westhope/Newburg (89-68) and No. 4-seeded Towner-Granville-Upham after upsetting Nedrose (82-76).

In first round regional action, Bottineau will face District 12 No. 2-seeded Des Lacs-Burlington and TGU gets the District 12 tournament champions in Bishop Ryan.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.