Parkston edges Wagner as Van Laecken reaches coaching milestone

PARKSTON -- Rob Van Laecken and his Parkston girls' basketball team had to sweat it out a bit Thursday, but in the end, a missed free throw by Wagner with 5.4 seconds left gave Parkston a 46-45 win, the 500th in Van Laecken's 32-year career.

Van Laecken wins 500th game
Matt Bunke/Republic Parkston girls' basketball coach Rob Van Laecken pumps his fist as his team celebrates a 3-pointer that gave the Trojans a lead early in the fourth quarter of Thursday's game in Parkston. Parkston's 46-45 win over Wagner was the 500th in Van Laecken's career.

PARKSTON -- Rob Van Laecken and his Parkston girls' basketball team had to sweat it out a bit Thursday, but in the end, a missed free throw by Wagner with 5.4 seconds left gave Parkston a 46-45 win, the 500th in Van Laecken's 32-year career.

The win also pushed Parkston's record on the year to a surprising 10-0, but it was Van Laecken's milestone win that added plenty of drama to an already-thrilling finish.

"It's probably not going to sink in until who knows when," said Van Laecken, who joins Fred Tibbetts as the only girls' coach in South Dakota with 500 or more wins. "I knew it was coming, and I've been very fortunate to have great kids. I've had great kids since I came here, great community support, great assistant coaches. It's been a combination of everything. It's not just about me. It's about the people I've been surrounded by."

When the final horn sounded after a frenetic final five seconds, Van Laecken raised both hands in the air in a gesture that likely had more to do with the come-from-behind win over a Little Missouri Valley Conference rival than it did with the milestone. Van Laecken's team, which enthusiastically moved the celebration to center court immediately after shaking hands with its opponent, seemed to be even more enthused to be a part of history.

"Its exciting because there's only a couple coaches out there that have 500 wins, so it's fun to be part of that," Parkston junior Allison Fergen said.


"We really wanted this for him, and we worked as hard as we could," added junior Emma Murtha, who has started since her freshman year and has now been a part of 45 of Van Laecken's wins.

Van Laecken now has a career record of 500-191, including a 233-60 mark in the Little Missouri Valley Conference. Van Laecken now sits only 51 wins behind Tibbetts, a man Van Laecken went to college with and considered a friend before he died last February after a bout with colon cancer.

"I feel very humbled, because there's only one other guy who has gotten 500, and that's Freddy Tibbets," Van Laecken said. "I just feel very, very humbled to cross the same bridge that he crossed."

It was only fitting that Van Laecken's milestone came at home, against a rival in a game that went right down the wire. Parkston trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, but then led by four in the final minute before holding off a late Wagner rally.

"Wagner is our rival, and they have a great team," Van Laecken said. "They have great athletes. We feel very fortunate to get out of here with a win. They're good, they're in our district, and we're going to have to see them again."

Eighth-grader Logan Wagner hit two free throws for Parkston to give the Trojans a four-point lead, their biggest of the game, with 48 seconds left. But Jilanne Doom came back with a basket for Wagner, and, after Serena Soukup's 3-pointer rimmed out, Jenny Eggers was fouled on a putback attempt with 5.4 seconds left.

She hit the first free throw, but missed the second. After a frantic scramble for the rebound in the lane, Parkston's Marie Malloy finally came away with the ball and was able to dribble out the clock down the right side without being fouled.

"It was kind of scary when they had the loose ball at the end there, but we came out and won anyway," Fergen said.


Wagner led for most of the first half, though never by more than three points as both teams struggled to get much going offensively. The teams went to the locker rooms at halftime deadlocked at 19.

Wagner took control early in the third quarter, when back-to-back baskets from Soukup and another from Carynn Blaha gave the Red Raiders a 31-24 lead, their biggest of the game, with 3:04 left in the quarter.

But Parkston reeled the Red Raiders back in quickly. Murtha scored on a putback with two seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Wagner lead to 35-33, then drained a 3-pointer to open the fourth that gave her team its first lead since it was 9-7 early in the second quarter.

Midway through the fourth, however, Doom scored four straight points for Wagner to put her team back up by six, 42-36. However, Jenna Reiser hit a basket for Parkston, Logan Wagner followed with a clutch three and Fergen hit a short jumper to give Parkston a 43-42 lead. In addition to the big three, Logan Wagner added three free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

"Logan played really well," Van Laecken said. "She hit some big shots for us."

Malloy and Murtha had 12 points each to lead Parkston, and Murtha had a team-high five rebounds. Doom had 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead Wagner, which fell to 5-5. Soukup added 11 points and Devon Brecke had five assists.

With the win, Parkston moves to 10-0, a surprising start for a team that lost two 1,000-point scorers from last year's team and doesn't have a senior on the roster this year.

"I don't think anybody thought we'd start 10-0, but we've got a great bunch of kids, and they play great team basketball," Van Laecken said.

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