Century fights off Devils Lake to claim second straight Class A girls basketball title

BISMARCK — Bismarck Century was in no mood to let history repeat itself at the North Dakota Class A girls state basketball tournament.

Thirty-two years after Devils Lake beat the Patriots in the state title game, the Patriots fought off the Firebirds down the stretch to post a 69-61 win and claim their second straight state title Saturday night, March 9, at the Bismarck Event Center.

Lauren Ware, a 6-foot-5 junior post who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, had 26 points 15 rebounds and four blocked shots as the Patriots won consecutive titles for the second time. The Patriots (27-0) also won in 2012 and 2013.

Devils Lake (25-2) last won a state championship in 1987.

The Patriots didn’t clinch their 33rd straight win until lake in the second half, after Devils Lake had taken a 53-52 lead.

“Offensively in the half court down the stretch those last three or four minutes, we needed to make better reads. That was the key,” Class A coach of the year Justin Klein said of his Devils Lake team. “I was very pleased with our plans and the kids stuck with what we wanted to do. We gave Ware too many looks in the first half but did a better job in the second half.”

Ware had 17 points in the first half, which ended with the Patriots holding 35-32 lead. The Firebirds had scored the last five points of the half to nearly complete a comeback from nine points down. Devils Lake outrebounded Century 20-15 and forced 10 turnovers in the first half.

“In the beginning, we were timid,” Ware said. “At halftime we talked about confidence, about doing what we know how to do. We did that the second half.”

Nevertheless, Devils Lake scored 27 points off 20 Patriot turnovers.

“We needed to be more confident,” said Century’s Julia Fitterer, who had 11 rebounds. “At halftime we talked about being confident. They have a good press but we gave them the ball too many times.”

With 9:17 to play, Jes Mertens – who had 16 points – drained a 3-pointer to start a 9-0 run that ended it with a layup that gave the Firebirds a 53-52 lead.

That lasted all of 53 seconds before Ware’s two free throws gave Century the lead for good. What followed was a series of clutch offensive rebounds and second-chance points. By the time that ended, the Patriots led 62-55.

Mertens scored Devils Lake’s last basket with 3:24 to play. Ramsey Brown had 12 points and Taylor Windjue and Mattea Vetsch added 11 each for Devils Lake.

Lilly Keplin had 20 points and six rebounds for Century, which improved to 6-4 in state championship games.