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Basketball Cobbler celebration

Rapid City Central players, from left to right, Gavyn Strand, Kailleb Walton-Blanden, Cecelio Montgomery, Dylan Hay and Jaxson Schmaltz celebrate after receiving their state tournament qualifying medals after beating Spearfish Saturday night in the Round of 16 game at Naasz Gymnasium.

Here’s a few leftovers from an exciting Saturday night of high school boys’ basketball action as Rapid City Stevens, Rapid City Central and Douglas all qualified for the Class AA state tournament in Sioux Falls.

Talk about a no doubter. The Cobblers jumped all over Spearfish in the Round of 16 game, leading 27-4 at the end of the first quarter and 51-19 at halftime.

Central coach TJ Hay began substituting liberally in the second quarter with the large lead, but he also put his starters back in the game for a few minutes in the third and again to start the fourth.

It wasn’t to run up the score, it was to keep his starters in game-mode. There’s a bit of am layoff now for the state teams, as the tournament doesn’t begin until March 15.

"I wanted to get them in for another two minutes. They came in and took over right where they left off,” Hay said. "The other guys came in and scored points right away and got some rebounds. It was a great effort by everybody.

The Round of 16 format has drawn some likes and dislikes from players, coaches, fans and media.

It basically comes down to 16 of the 18 teams in Class AA qualify for the state tournament. The postseason, however, is short-lived for eight of the teams … the losing teams.

So it is no surprise when a team comes out on fire like the Cobblers did Saturday night. It was apparent that they didn’t want to be “one and done.”

Hay said that when they came to practice on Tuesday, they talked about every game from "Now on out is a state championship game." It started with Spearfish.

"They knew tonight it was a state championship game for them, because if they don't win, then they aren't going to be there," he said. "We're going to take that same approach for the next week and a half. There's still things we can get better at."

On the other end of the spectrum, it was a disappointing way to end the season for the Spartans, who still had some high hopes to playing spoiler with their 7-13 overall record going in.

Despite the loss, Spearfish coach Erik Skoglund, who returned to Spearfish after four years at Mitchell, said he was proud of his team this season.

"We have outstanding student-athletes here at Spearfish High School," he said. "The guys bought in from day one. It was just unfortunate that we didn't have our best showing on the biggest stage. The whole season and these guys, it is a lot bigger than one game. The lessons that we have learned, sending off eight seniors here, just can't be duplicated."

A quick peek ahead

Rapid City fans, get ready to put on your hiking shoes if you want to watch all of the local teams.

It’s not that the games are a great distance away from each other in this boys' and girls' (at the same time and place) format.

But Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens will both be playing its openers at 2 p.m. Mountain Time.

No, not against each other.

The Cobblers face the Douglas Patriots at the PREMEIR Center and the Raiders face Sioux Falls O’Gorman at the Sioux Falls Arena.

What would have really made it interesting, if not more annoying, would have been if Sturgis would have defeated O'Gorman (the Scoopers fell 61-57 in double overtime). Sturgis would have been the eighth seed and played Stevens.

It would have been all four West River teams playing at once.

Regardless, Journal staff writer Geoff Preston will have to have one eye on the Central-Douglas game and the other eye in the Stevens-O'Gorman game.

It’s a good thing he is young. — Richard Anderson

Keys to the game

Much of the talk after Rapid City Stevens took down Pierre in its Round of 16 game involved chips and shoulders.

As in, the Raiders seem to have been playing with a huge chip on their shoulder this season.

After losing its top two scorers from last season to graduation, not many gave Stevens a chance. Now it is the No. 1 seed in the state tournament.

The defensive strategy was one of the most important keys to the game. It appeared that Cooper Bowman was on the much taller Peyton Zabel all night, but coach Chris Stoebner said that wasn't the case.

"We knew we couldn't guard him with one guy, just because of his size, so we got a lot of good help today," he said. "Zabel is a man, so we had to try to get other guys to score."

Stoebner also praised the play of his two guards, Bowman and Connor King.

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He also said that he believes this was not a typical No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup. Last season Pierre beat Stevens in double overtime in the first round of the state tournament, and Saturday's game was physical.

"It prepared us. That was a physical game and we knew it was going to be a physical battle," he said. "It tested us, we kind of passed the test tonight. Hopefully that physicality prepares us come tournament time, because we know whoever we play, it's going to be just like this game.

"If we're No. 1 and we draw Pierre at 16, that's not your typical 16 seed. There's no easy games, if we lose two, it'll mean that our third game is going to be tough."

A rematch to start

Stevens' first game in the state tournament will be against the same team the season started against, the defending state champions, Sioux Falls O'Gorman.

O'Gorman lost some talent to graduation last season, but still comes in with a 13-8 record and something in its back pocket, the Knights topped the Raiders 67-63 to open the season on the road.

Later in the season, Stevens was able to get revenge. Strong defense led it to a 51-46 win in Sioux Falls Jan. 20.

"They're a good team, I it'll be another good game with them, both games have been close," he said. "I'm just looking forward to next week."

Confidence is key

The Raiders are a confident bunch as they get ready to make the trip to Sioux Falls. 

"We have as a good shot as anybody," Stoebner said. "I love this team, and we have as good a shot as anybody. We've kind of been playing with a chip on our shoulder, because we're pretty good too."

Bowman said he had been reading some blogs, and one said that Stevens wasn't supposed to beat Pierre in the Round of 16.

He had no problem taking that personally.

"It's definetely a huge chip on your shoulder, but that makes you work harder so I'm fine with it," he said.

Stevens and O'Gorman tip-off at 2 p.m. Thursday. -Geoff Preston

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.