Mustangs make semis with comeback win over St. Mary’s
FARGO — West Fargo Sheyenne looked like it would be on the wrong side of history. The Mustangs were on their way to being the first No. 1 seed in the state tournament to lose in the opening round since Bismarck St. Mary’s in 2013.
Instead, for the first time in the program’s four-year history, the Mustangs are going to the state semifinals. The East Region No. 1-seeded Mustangs scored 49 points in the second half to beat West Region No. 4 seed St. Mary’s 80-70 in the North Dakota Class A boys basketball state quarterfinals on Thursday, March 8, at North Dakota State’s Scheels Center.
“It sounds amazing,” Mustangs head coach Tom Kirchoffner said. “It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Sheyenne big man Kemal Hajric was four assists away from a triple-double. He shot 7-for-16 from the field and tallied 14 points and game highs of 14 rebounds and six assists. His rebounding output helped the Mustangs get 26 second-chance points.
“All the work we put into the season has finally paid off for us,” Hajric said. “It’s like an engine that’s working at its peak. For us, it’s just an amazing feeling. You can’t help but smile about it.”
Hajric said the Mustangs pride themselves on energy and admitted they started out flat. St. Mary’s went up by as much as seven points in the opening minutes. Cole Gendreau hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the first half as the Saints led at halftime.
“I just told them we’re fine. I just told them we could erupt at any time,” Kirchoffner said. “We just had to get the jitters out.”
Hajric said the Mustangs coaches promised that shots would eventually fall, and eventually they did. The Mustangs scored eight unanswered points in the first two minutes of the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers by Elijah Charles and a Christian Kuntz putback. Kuntz scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half as he, Hajric, Zach Westphal (18 points) and Tyler Terhark (13) finished with double-digit points for the Mustangs.
St. Mary’s, fueled by Luke Kambeitz’s game-high 20 points, cut the lead back down to four points. Sheyenne immediately replied when Keaton Ballestad hit Hajric with highlight reel behind-the-back bounce pass for a fast-break bucket. The Mustangs went on an 18-6 run for a permanent lead.
After St. Mary’s was 6-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half, the Mustangs forced the Saints to shoot 4 of 18 in the second from that range.
“We really started defending,” Kuntz said. “We’re trying to get to that first state championship in program history. Once we start playing with a lot of heart, nothing else can stop us.”