Unlike the first meeting between the schools, the Rapid City Stevens and Sturgis Scoopers boys’ basketball teams used every second available Friday night in the District 4AA title game at Carold Heier Gymnasium.
Make that every one-tenth of a second made available.
The Raiders held on 44-42 to earn the automatic berth in the state tournament in two weeks in Rapid City. Sturgis, which had a chance to win or tie with the last possession, will play for the opportunity to go to state Tuesday when it hosts Aberdeen Central in the Region 2 game.
Earlier this season, the Raiders handed the Scoopers their first loss with a 25-point victory.
“It was a battle, I’ll tell you what,” a relieved Stevens coach Chris Stoebner said. “Credit to Sturgis. They came out with a great game-plan. They wanted to slow it down and try to take some of our fastbreak points away. In the end, we made some plays and that was the key. But it was a battle.”
Friday in a back-and-forth game for much of the way, the Scoopers got their chance after Stevens guard Mason Archambault missed one of two free throws with 13 seconds remaining to keep it a two-point game. The Raiders, however, played outstanding defense to not let Sturgis get off a potential game-winning 3-pointer —the Scoopers made nine 3s in the game.
Cooper Bowman’s block of Cedrick Stabber with the ball going out of bounds with 0.1 second remaining still gave Scoopers hope. Sturgis lobbed the ball under the basket and Jace Fischer’s catch and release in front of the free-throw line beat the clock, but was a bit short and off the mark.
Stoebner said they talked about whether or not to foul to make sure the Scoopers don’t get a 3-pointer off to beat them.
Instead, they decided to just play hard-nosed defense and see what happens.
“I told our guys that we are one of the best defenses in the state, so we’re going to get a stop,” he said. “We came out and did a pretty good job.”
With both teams liking to get up and down the court and shoot at will, it naturally was a defensive contest, with only 40 combined points by halftime and 59 going into the fourth quarter.
The last sequence was all defense for Stevens. Trailing by two points with 30 seconds to go, the Scoopers had to foul, but had just three fouls at that point. They fouled four times in the next 17 seconds to get the Raiders to the free-throw line and a chance to steal the win.
It nearly worked.
“I’m very proud of our kids’ effort tonight,” Scooper coach Collin McCampbell said. “They put in a great effort in preparation for this game. They put in a lot of time in the off-season to put them in position to be in this game. I can’t say any more about the effort. Hats off to Stevens; that is a really good team.”
Raider junior forward/center Will Moore said his teammates played hard to the end, even with some difficulties on offense.
“In the first half, we struggled and missed some layups, but we focused on defense and we pulled through at the end, I guess,” Moore said.
Sturgis stayed in the game with some strong 3-point shooting. The Scoopers actually relied heavily on their outside game, with 25 of their 37 total field goal attempts from beyond the arc.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Fischer and Dawson Geuke put the Scoopers up 11-7 at the end of one, but Stevens battled back behind nine points from Archambault and outscored Sturgis 17-5 in the second period for a 24-16 halftime lead.
The Raiders still led by eight with five minutes left in the third, before Sturgis battled back with six points from Geuke and cut the lead to 30-29 heading into the fourth. The Scoopers took their first lead since early in the second when Geuke opened with a 3-pointer.
But five straight points by Moore seemingly opened it up for the Raiders.
Not at all as Fischer hit a pair of 3-pointers to close the gap and Ryan Garland’s 3-pointer made it a 43-42 game with 58 seconds, setting up the wild final minute.
“It was not what we were expecting,” said Archambault, who led the Raiders with 15 points. “We didn’t play as good as we wanted to, but we got it done.”
Sturgis hit 9-of-25 3-pointers, including 4-of-11 from Geuke, who led the Scoopers with 15 points. Fischer hit 3-of-5 3s and scored 12, while Connor Crane added 10 points.
“We just had to stop Geuke. We had to close out on him. He hit some crazy shots. Give him props,” Archambault.
Moore finished with 11 points for the Raiders and Jacob Martin chipped in with 10. Stevens shot just 40 percent from the field.
“They are really tough to defend. I’d like to think we’re tough to defend, too,” McCampbell said. “I thought both teams had a great effort. Obviously when the score is that low, it is going to be pretty tight most of the way. Trying to figure how to guard that team is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. I’m proud of our guys’ defensive effort.”
Stoebner said he told his team that they didn’t have a great game offensively, but they did what they had to do for the win.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter how you get to the tournament, we’re there. We’re going to have to put together three really good games,” Stoebner said.
The Raiders will now prepare for the state tournament and the Scoopers will look to join them if they can handle Aberdeen Central on Tuesday.
“We’re lucky to have the opportunity Tuesday night to go out and give it another shot,” McCampbell said.