Century tops St. Mary’s, heads to Class A championship

FARGO — For the fifth time in the past seven seasons, Bismarck Century’s girls basketball team is headed to the North Dakota Class A championship game. The Patriots topped Bismarck St. Mary’s 55-48 Friday, March 9, in the semifinals at North Dakota State’s Scheels Center for a spot in the title game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Century has lost in its last two appearances in the championship game. Junior guard and University of North Dakota commit Lilly Keplin has been part of both of those teams.
“We just have to get out there, work our butts off and get this one taken care of,” said Keplin, who led Century with 14 points and six rebounds Friday. “I’ve been in the program for three years and have come up short twice. I really don’t want to come up short this year.”
Keplin’s shots were coming up short early in Friday’s game. With less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Keplin had hit one shot from the field. That didn’t last, as she let out a huge scream after hitting a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to go in the first half.
“I kind of came into the game with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder like we all did,” Keplin said. “And I think I took it a little too personally. They got kind of physical at the beginning and I think that got in my head a little bit.”
Keplin came down the next possession, forced a foul and split two free throws. She snatched a rebound, sprinted the length of the court and hit a layup on the ensuing possession to put Century up 28-17.
Then it was Tonya Dvorak’s turn for St. Mary’s, which is the only team to have beaten Century (25-1) this season. The senior forward buried a 3-pointer, while getting fouled, and converted the four-point play and hit a jumper to close the first half on her own 6-0 run. St. Mary’s went into halftime trailing 28-23, but with momentum.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as the Saints forced turnovers on the first two Century possessions to tie the game at 28-28.
“We knew they were going to fight hard,” Keplin said. “We knew we had to stick to our game plan and keep working hard.”
It took 6-foot-4 sophomore Lauren Ware, who seemingly has her choice of what college she wants to play basketball or volleyball at, more than nine minutes to score in the second half. She made them count, as her jumper pushed Century’s lead to 40-33. When St. Mary’s made it a one-possession game, Ware had back-to-back buckets to push the lead to 47-40 with 3:54 to go.
“My dad always tells me to keep shooting the ball,” said Ware, who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. “Obviously, they have some big players on the inside, so it’s kind of hard to go against such big players. I had to keep playing physical and keep taking it to the hoop because eventually my shots would fall.”
St. Mary’s didn’t go away, as Dvorak buried a 3-pointer to cut the Century lead to 50-46 with 2:49 to go. The Saints wouldn’t score again until hitting two free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining.
“We got a little bit of composure at a few key times when we needed a hoop to keep the lead when they kept cutting it to two to four to five,” Century coach Ron Metz said. “When we’d get it up to six or seven, all of a sudden, they’d come storming back. They would’ve had huge momentum if they would’ve had a chance to go ahead. Defensive stops when we really needed to was key.”