BY ROB WITZEL
A wonderful season came to an end Friday night in a tough way. After gathering 27 wins and a Vermillion Valley Conference Championship, the Bismarck Henning Blue Devils’ season was brought to an end at the hand of the St Joseph-Ogden Spartans 54-27.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season,” Blue Devils coach Jon Clapp said. “I’m sure the guys don’t see it now but when they look back on this season, they’ll realize it was a very good year.”
The Spartans were loaded with great shooters, especially junior guard Nate Michael, who drained four 3-point baskets. Bismarck contained the offense in the first half, but after being stretched out, eventually fell out of the game and couldn’t come back.
“All of their guys can shoot pretty well,” Clapp said. “You have to try and spread out and contain that. At first we did a pretty good job getting out to it, but then Michael pulls up six feet behind the line and he drains it. They just keep stretching you out farther and farther until it opens you up on the inside. You have trouble defending everything.”
The Spartans matched their great offense, with tough defense. The Spartans shut down team leader Austin Toler, and that left lingering effects to the other four on the floor.
“They did a nice job on Toler tonight. He’s generally the motor that keeps us going and they did an excellent job defending him,” Clapp said.
Both sides came out very physical in the opening minutes. The Spartans struck first followed by a Chase Connelly jumper that evened it up. Both teams went through a dry spell before a 4-2 run closed out the opening quarter 6-4.
The Spartans defense heavily guarded the Blue Devils and while the other starters — Austin Reinken, Austin Toler, Wilde Garowski and Andy Bott — were all held scoreless, Connelly began sinking a few shots. At halftime the Spartans would lead 16-10 with all 10 points coming from Connelly.
“The first half I thought we executed pretty well,” Clapp said. “We missed some open layups and halftime, it could have been a tie game.”
The Regional Championship was still within range when the teams took the court for the second half, but after bending the first two quarters, the Blue Devil defense eventually broke open.
The Spartans went on an 11-1 run with three three-pointers. Bismarck finished the third with a 7-5 run and the season’s end was imminent.
The fourth quarter wasn’t any better for the Blue Devils. After a 5-5 square-off, the Spartans broke away. St Joe would put up a game high 20 points in the final eight minutes while the Blue Devils were held to nine.
For the Blue Devils, Connelly would lead in points with 11, followed by Reinken and Garowski who each had four.
While it’s a tough send off for seniors Toler, Reinken and Brad Walsh, Clapp hopes that this could help inspire the underclassmen this offseason to turning a great defense into an elite one.
“We’ve been primarily a zone basketball club,” Clapp said. “We’ve had the reputation of being very good in the zone but I told them we need to be a good all around defense. We need to work on our man to man this offseason and step that area of our game up.”