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Class A state boys basketball tournament preview: Field seeks to beat Clark-Willow Lake


1:00 AM, Mar. 13, 2013 EDT

Clark-Willow Lake's Sklyer Flatten drives against Washington on Feb. 2. The Cyclones are undefeated entering the Class A state tournament. / Melissa Sue Gerrits / Argus Leader

Less than a week after seeing the Harrisburg girls capture a state title in their first-ever, the Tea Area boys are hoping to follow suit beginning Thursday at the Class A state boys basketball tournament in Rapid City.

The fifth-seeded Titans (20-3) punched their inaugural ticket to state with a dramatic 57-55 overtime win over Dakota Valley in the Region 4A championship en route to setting a school record for wins in a season, but have remained fairly level-headed for a group marching into uncharted territory.

"Our guys have done a good job this season staying on an even keel," said Tea coach Chris Fechner, whose team opens against fourth-seeded Spearfish. "The ebbs and flows of games are going to be there, but how we react is going to dictate how we play. We realize once we get on that bus and on that court those things are going to happen. However prepared you think you are, the jitters are going to be there."

Lucky for the Titans, Spearfish (18-5) plays a similar game to that of Dakota Valley - at least on tape - with shooters lining the perimeter, players capable to create offense off the dribble with physical post play.

Despite the challenges, Fechner's group is comfortable with what could be a familiar feel with the Spartans, led by seniors Brandon Kemp and Dillon Orth, both of whom average more than 11 points per game.

Part of that comes from the Titans' own senior leadership with five upperclassman starters, including three averaging double figures in Connor Shaull (14 ppg), Riley Knutson (13) and Mitchell Nissen (11). Shaull and Nissen also average eight rebounds a game, which could be the key to the transition game.

"Our defense has to lead to our offense," said Fechner. "Little things are going to win big games."

A first-round win for the Titans could mean a semifinal meeting with top-seeded Clark/Willow Lake, a tournament favorite with an unblemished record at 21-0.

Led by South Dakota State recruit Skyler Flatten (22.4 ppg), the Cyclones are looking to improve on last season's sixth place finish with a wealth of scoring power. Torrey Kolden and Tyson Jenkins each average double-digit points while Mitch Prouty and Lane Hovde combine for 15 points per game.

"Flatten's obviously a tremendous athlete," said Fechner. "But the role players they have are pretty darn good, too. Those other kids are going to make you pay, so you have to pick your poison."

CWL, which had 10 games decided by 10 points or less, could get a battle from eighth-seeded Platte-Geddes, a team guided by a balanced scoring attack. Sophomore Coby Johnson (13.2) leads the team in scoring, but the Black Panthers (16-7) have three other players averaging at least nine points per contest.

On the other side of the bracket, third-seeded Madison (21-2) is in pursuit of its first championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2009-10, with that road starting against sixth-seeded Pine Ridge.

If the Bulldogs are going to make another run, however, they'll have to find a way to handle the Thorpes' (14-8) trio of juniors Jeff LeBeaux (17.5, 8.7 rpg), Jake Brown (12.3) and Jacob Dreamer (10.2).

"They have what I think is an all-state player in LeBeaux - he's just a good player who doesn't force it and will distribute it well if you double team him," said Madison coach Mike Ricke.

Madison, winners of four state titles, will also be looking to get its offense in rhythm behind Trae Vandeberg and Jesse Brown, both of whom average over 11 points per game, while the squads' other starters account for at least seven points apiece. That potency had led to a 22-point per game scoring differential for the Bulldogs.

"We're an up-tempo team, so we don't necessarily want to slow them down, but rather let 'em run and see if we can use it to our advantage," said Ricke.

Meanwhile, second-seeded Aberdeen Roncalli (16-4) and seventh-seeded Mobridge-Pollock square off in a rematch of the Cavaliers' season-opener - a 70-59 win for Roncalli. The Cavs, fourth a season ago, will be leaning on the senior tandem of Kory Schwan (13.3) and Dominic King (10.6) to set the tone as they chase their first state title since 1975.

Mobridge-Pollock (18-5), which rebounded from starting the season 0-3, could be a dangerous team behind seniors Zach Dockter (15.2) and Daniel Roberts (14.8 and junior Mitchel Heumiller (14.5), one of three Tigers averaging more than two steals per game.

"A lot of people are saying it's a wide open field and I think you have to give the nod to Clark/Willow Lake," said Ricke. "But in Class A this year, any given night one tem can beat another, whether is a 1-8 matchup or a 4-5. We have pretty good faith in what we're doing, so hopefully we can go out there and bring back a state championship."

 

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