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Warriors ride strong defense into state tourney

WINNER--Any team playing the Winner boys basketball team knows to expect a non-stop, in-your-face defensive effort from the Warriors. Riding a defense that has held teams to less than 50 points five times in a nine-game winning streak, Winner ear...

Winner's Devon Leiferman, center, drives between Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Tate Deinert, left, and Taylen Trisco, right, during a boys basketball game earlier this year. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
Winner's Devon Leiferman, center, drives between Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Tate Deinert, left, and Taylen Trisco, right, during a boys basketball game earlier this year. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

WINNER-Any team playing the Winner boys basketball team knows to expect a non-stop, in-your-face defensive effort from the Warriors.

Riding a defense that has held teams to less than 50 points five times in a nine-game winning streak, Winner earned a second consecutive trip the Class A state boys basketball tournament.

"We spend over half of our practice on the defensive end. That's our staple, and we're always working on the fundamentals," Winner head coach Brett Gardner said. "It's our pride to defend and rebound, and then take care of the basketball."

The seventh-seeded Warriors (18-5) will face second-seeded St. Thomas More (18-4) in the first round at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City.

"They have what every team wants with the point guard, the shooter, the big and then some nice role players," said Gardner about St. Thomas More. "They're a very good team and well-coached."

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The Cavaliers average 56.6 points per game and are led by Jake Satter, Isaac Kortemeyer and Preston Arity. Satter averages 13.4 points per game, while Kortemeyer and Arity each average 12.5 and 11.3 points, respectively.

"We want to give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter to pull out a victory," Gardner said. "We need to close out long on shooters, control the guards from dribble penetration and keep the big players off the block."

After graduating five seniors from last year's third-place team, Winner has turned to its two seniors, Devon Leiferman and Lattrel, Terkildsen along with a plethora of junior players to claim the Region 7A title by knocking off top-seeded Red Cloud (74-71) and No. 2 Little Wound (51-49).

"All 13 guys know their role and do a great job," Gardner said. "Everyone does their role whether they play 30 seconds or 10 minutes."

Leiferman leads the team with an average of 17.1 points and nine rebounds per contest, while Terkildsen averages 8.6 points per game. Juniors Drew DeMers, Trevor Bertram, Cameron Kuil, Krockett Krolikowski, Isaac Naasz and Chase Kingsbury have each played in at least 20 games for the Warriors this season. DeMers is averaging eight points per game and leads the team with an average of 4.6 assists per game, while Krolikowski chips in eight points and 6.6 rebounds per game and Kuil leads the team in steals (41) and pulls down 7.2 rebounds per game.

"A lot of our points have come off defensive transition and come from our defense," Gardner said. "Teams can't key on one player because we have four or five guys scoring for us."

Ten of the current players on the Winner basketball team were members of this year's Class 11B state football championship team and a majority of the team experienced minutes on last year's state tournament team. Those past experiences, as well as a pair of road region games this year, have proven the boys from Winner aren't afraid of the state's biggest stage.

"It's a nice addition, because big lights won't phase our guys," Gardner said. "They're used to it and they can handle it. We're hoping the Warriors can make some noise this weekend."

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If the Warriors defeat St. Thomas More, Winner would face either Dakota Valley or Mount Vernon/Plankinton. Winner's last loss came at the hands of the Titans 61-57 on Jan. 29. Winner also dropped a 65-52 contest to No. 5 Chamberlain on Jan. 5 and earned a 55-48 win over No. 8 Aberdeen Roncalli on Jan. 16 in Sioux Falls.

Top-seeded Sioux Falls Christian (19-3) enters the tournament as a favorite, having fended off last year's runner-up Dell Rapids in the Region 3A title game. Gardner said the Chargers are favored but shouldn't be considered the "heavy favorite".

"Anytime you get to the state tournament, any team can pull it out," Gardner said. "I would say this year's state tournament is wide open and we're hoping we are there at the end. You going to have to play well all three nights, because if you have an off night, you're going to get beat."

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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