FORT PIERRE -- Winner struggled in the first half and was down by two, 24-22, heading into the third quarter, but the Warriors gained some ground and were able to pull away for a 54-40 win over St. Francis Indian Tuesday in the Region 7A boys' basketball championship game in Fort Pierre.
The win advances the Warriors (20-3) to the Class A state tournament, which starts March 18 in Sioux Falls. This marks Winner's first state tournament berth since 2001.
"(Getting to state) was our goal, and we're pretty excited," Winner coach Jim Drake said. "The whole town is pretty excited about going to Sioux Falls."
St. Francis, which ends the season with a 14-8 record, led 11-7 after the first quarter and held a two-point lead at halftime. The Warriors hit a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer and made a layup at the end of the second to keep the game close.
Then, the Warriors outscored St. Francis 21-13 in the third quarter to pull away.
"We really struggled in the first half," Drake said. "In the third, we knew we had to go inside more and take the ball to the basket. We didn't do that in the first half."
Skyler Kuil led all scorers with 21 points and he also had nine rebounds. Zach Horstman added 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Winner, which was 21-for-56 from the field, 9-for-18 from the line and held a 36-23 advantage on the boards.
Tim Little Shield paced St. Francis with 11 points and Lawyer Claymore added 10. Little Shield also had nine rebounds. The Warriors were 17-for-43 from the field and 5-for-13 from the line.
"We struggled offensively all night, but to hold a pretty explosive team to 40 points is really a heck of a job by our team defensively," Drake said.
Winner 7 22 43 54
SFI 11 24 37 40