Article by Harry Lipsiea, Devils Lake Journal Sports, January 5th, 2017.
There was a point early in the fourth when you could hear a pin drop near the huddle of the Lake Region State College women's basketball team. Trailing by eight points to a solid Northern State College JV squad, a team who had previously beaten LRSC, it seemed as if the Royals had a tough hill to climb. Head coach Danny Mertens noted that things were pretty quiet during the timeout break.
"I didn't really say much," the third-year head mentor pointed out. "It was simple, we could either fold the tent or get after it."
Unlike when the team fell 67-56 to Northern State JV Nov. 23, LRSC converted big plays in key moments Wednesday night at the Devils Lake Sports Center. Behind important stops on defense and some key shooting, the Royals earned a 60-59 come-from-behind victory over the Wolves.
While there were a lot of plays that gave LRSC momentum, Mertens felt that players on the Royal's bench provided the spark needed down the stretch.
"To me, those girls on the bench got everything going. They brought tremendous energy and started communicating," the coach said.
"The players on the court really fed off of that and it showed on the floor. Like I told the players in the locker room, that was as positive team win as we could have had. We needed every single person on our team to help us come out on top tonight."
LRSC improved to 9-4 with the non-conference victory. By avenging a previous loss and putting together a late surge, the Royals go into Monday's Mon-Dak Conference opener with confidence, the coach said.
"This is absolutely a boost for us," Mertens added. "You could see it in the players' face after the game, they are having fun and feeling good about that win. If we can carry that momentum into conference play, we will be in good shape."
It wasn't an easy task as the Wolves pushed the Royals for 40 minutes. Northern State JV, traditionally known as a tough opponent, took NDSCS to the wire earlier this season in a three-point loss. The Wildcats are looked at as one of the favorites in the Mon-Dak Conference. That in itself shows what type of team the Wolves are.
"You have to give credit where credit is due. That is a very good basketball team," Mertens said of Northern State JV.
"They are bigger and stronger than anyone we will see in the conference. To walk away with a win over a team like that after a month off, I couldn't be more pleased."
Down 47-39 early in the fourth quarter, the Royals got going behind the shooting Mackenzie Irwin. The sophomore perimeter player nailed three straight shots from beyond the arc ultimately giving LRSC a 50-49 advantage at 5:15 remaining on the game clock. From there, it was back-and-forth.
Reserve guard R'rionna Brocks came up with a steal and a bucket to give the Royals a 54-51 lead. The Wolves battled back with buckets by Jessi Marti and Tera Williamson to take a three-point advantage with two minutes left.
The Royals briefly took back the lead as sophomore forward Cassidy Nelson scored four straight points behind a pair of free throws and a bucket off the glass. LRSC led 58-57 with less than a minute remaining.
Northern State JV reclaimed the lead at 59-58 with 20 seconds left with a jumper by Marti.
Once again LRSC answered back as Nelson received a pass, moved to her left and nailed an eight-footer to give the Royals a one-point lead with eight seconds remaining.
Due to aggressive defense by the home team, Northern State JV was unable to get a shot off and Lake Region State College earned the 60-59 triumph.
"It was a really good win for us," Mertens said. "This game built a lot of character in us. I am proud of the improvement and growth I'm seeing out of this team."
There were many key performances by LRSC in the win. From quality minutes provided by Brocks, stops by Fee and Gobald along with points down the stretch by Schafer, Irwin and Nelson.
"It was the definition of a team win," Mertens said.
Lake Region State College travels to Bismarck Monday for the team's conference opener against BSC.
The game will begin at 5:30 p.m.