Pine Ridge boys’ basketball coach Casey Means left the locker room Friday night at the Class A state tournament in Sioux Falls with tears in his eyes.
He knew his Thorpes were on the doorstep of shocking the state, but they came up just short.
No. 4 seeded Pine Ridge fell to No. 1 seeded Tea Area 57-51 in the semifinals of the tournament from the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
The Thorpes had to continue to fight back against the Titans and did, but ultimately the tournament’s top seed had too much fire-power and advanced to the championship.
“I told them I’m very proud of them, and if they go about life how they went about this game, they’ll be good role models, good workers, awesome fathers and good husbands,” an emotional Means said following the loss. “I told the younger players that the offseason starts Monday. Remember this feeling so we won’t have to feel it again.”
Tea Area struggled with turnovers to start the game, and with 4:51 to go in the first quarter, the Thorpes led 7-3.
The Titans came out of the timeout and forced some turnovers that led to easy possessions, but at the end of the first quarter Pine Ridge still led 14-13.
Tea Area came out in the second quarter and took the lead back in the opening minutes by scoring the first nine points to take a 22-14 advantage with less than five minutes to go in the first half.
But then it was Pine Ridge’s turn to make a run, and it did, cutting the lead to two at 30-28 going into the locker room.
“They fought back like champions,” Means said. "When Tea Area gets teams down by 10, they usually run away with it. We took their best shots and were right there. We were a couple of rebounds and a couple of loose balls away from turning this thing around.”
Like the second quarter, the Titans got off to a hot start in the third, starting off on a 13-6 run that made the score 43-34 with 4:26 remaining.
At the end of the third, Tea Area led 47-39.
In the fourth quarter Pine Ridge outscored the Titans 12-10, but also had some key fouls called down the stretch that put the ball in Tea Area’s hands with a chance to ice the game with free throws in the final minute.
That’s exactly what it did, setting up a date with No. 2 seed Sioux Falls Christian for the championship, which topped No. 6 seeded Lennox in the other semifinal 53-46.
Pine Ridge will face the Orioles at 2:15 p.m. in the third-place game.
“I’m going to let them feel. This was a childhood dream and they had their arm in one sleeve and it got taken off,” Means said. “I’m going to let them feel how they feel tonight and then we’re going to be ready tomorrow. They’re warriors and they’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
The Thorpes shut down Tea Area’s top scorer Noah Freidel, who is committed to play at Wright State, in the second half as he only scored three points.
The problem was he scored 20 points in the first half and ended the game as the leading scorer, and he kicked in 12 rebounds.
Other Titan Division I recruit, Justin Hohn, who is committed to UC-Irvine, got into foul trouble early and ended with three points, four assists and four turnovers.
“We know that Justin likes to get them to all their spots, get the ball to the right spot, and we know where Noah’s hot spots are, so we tried to limit him getting touches in those spots, and then keep Justin out of the paint and attack them on offense,” Means said. “Their defense was enough too, they played awesome on defense.”
In addition to Freidel’s 23, Kaleb Joffer and Kade Stearns had 11 apiece for the Titans.
Charles Schrader led the way for Pine Ridge with 14 points, followed by Halin Bad Bear who had 12 and Corey Brown who had 11.
Means didn’t place much of the blame on the players for the loss.
“This wasn’t their fault, if anything it was mine,” he said. “I should have prepared them better. I’ll take full responsibility for that.”
The win moved Tea Area to 23-1 on the season, while Pine Ridge fell to 19-4.
The Thorpes were 19-of-49 from the field for 38.8 percent and the Titans were 21-of-55 for 38.2 percent from the field.
Means said this loss will take awhile to get over, but he also said throughout the season there isn’t a team he would rather go through the grind of a high school basketball season with.
“They’ve got a heart of a lion, they’re warriors. I’ll go to battle with them anytime. I want them on the front lines. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them, they’re humble, they’re coachable, classy, they’re just a special group of guys,” he said. “I knew if I challenged them they’d answer the call, and they did. Sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way. Could be a loose ball, a rebound, a shot; we were right there. We had our chances and I believe we’re the two best teams in the state.”