Down but not out
Rugby erases 13-point deficit to beat Velva, 47-42
VELVA — One way or another, the Panthers were going to find a way.
That was the mindset the No. 8-ranked Rugby girls basketball (14-2) team had entering the second half of their road battle against No. 4-ranked Velva (14-2) on Thursday night. Despite trailing by as many as 13 points, the Panthers leaned on their seniors to escape a hostile environment with a 47-42 victory.
“I think tonight proved that we can battle,” Rugby head coach Jen Brossart said. “Our seniors stepped up, and we had some girls come off the bench and give us crucial minutes as well. I was very happy with our effort tonight overall.”
The Aggies made Rugby work for every bucket in the first half by playing a hyper-aggressive defensive loaded with presses, double teams and clean contests. Junior Emma Passa led the way, recording a pair of blocks and snatching a number of rebounds.
On offense, Velva got a spark from Grace Mogen. The junior guard lit up Rugby’s defense for nine points in the first two quarters to help give her team a 26-17 lead at halftime.
With the game beginning to slip away from her team, Brossart challenged her girls to keep fighting.
“We buried ourselves in the first half,” Brossart said. “I didn’t think we were gelling very well offensively, and I thought we could’ve attacked more. We didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments at halftime. I just said ‘We have to get going, girls.'”
With their backs to the wall, the Panthers responded.
Trailing 30-17 with 4:30 left in the third quarter, Rugby’s Karsyn Hager caught fire. The senior guard drilled a corner three and then followed it up with another triple from practically the parking lot on the following possession to cut the deficit to seven.
But she wasn’t finished. Hager gave the Rugby fans one more encore on the following possession by sinking her third straight three-pointer to make it a 30-26 game and force Velva to burn a timeout.
“It wasn’t my plan to (hit those threes),” Hager said. “But I wanted this win so bad, and I just wanted to get us going. As a senior, I feel like I have to do my part to get us back in it when we’re down like that.”
The Panthers eventually claimed a 38-36 lead with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter thanks to senior Maria Blessum, who stole an inbound pass and finished on the other end with a layup for her seventh and eight points of the contest.
Blessum also made her presence known on the defensive end as she accepted the challenge of guarding Passa. The senior held Velva’s most dominant scorer to just two made field goals on the night.
“Give a lot of credit to Emma Passa,” Blessum said. “She’s a great ballplayer, and she’s tough to guard. It’s never boring guarding her.”
Now leading 42-40 with one minute remaining, Rugby’s Anni Stier carried her team to the finish line. The senior went 4-for-5 from the charity stripe in the final minute to secure the Panthers’ 47-42 win and complete the comeback.
Mogen finished with a game-high 18 points for Velva in the loss, while Kaitlyn Lund and Passa each totaled eight points. Stier led the way for Rugby with 15 points, followed by Hager with 13 points and Blessum with 10 points in a win the team knew wasn’t going to come easy.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle,” Hager said. “We came here with fire and energy because we knew it was going to take everything to beat (Velva), and I’m super proud of our girls for giving it 100 percent.”
Rugby will face another test on Saturday when it hits the road to take on No. 7-ranked Trenton at 4:30 p.m. Meanwhile, the Aggies will look to bounce back on Monday when they host Nedrose at 5:45 p.m.
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.