It all comes down to No. 2-ranked Fargo Oak Grove (22-2) and Oakes (12-12) tonight at the Fargo Civic Center.
Winner goes to state. Simple as that.
Tipoff is set for approximately 7:30 p.m. and it will be a battle of teams that have had very different seasons.
Oak Grove started the year with a seven-game winning streak. In contrast, the Tornadoes started the year 0-7. Oak Grove lost to Shiloh Christian in OT – its only loss of the regular season. Along the way was a huge 73-72 win over then No. 1-ranked and undefeated Milnor. The Grovers had a setback against Kindred in the District 2 championship game, but have recovered in the Region 1 tournament defeating Lidgerwood-Wyndmere and the No. 3-ranked Bison for the second time this season.
Oakes has won 11 of its last 15 games and have gotten hot at the right time. The Tornadoes scored a 61-60 win over Kindred in the quarterfinals Monday and followed up with another come-from-behind victory against Enderlin on Tuesday.
I’ve now seen Oakes play twice and I’ve covered eight of the Grovers games this season. After observing the teams, here are my keys to game for both the Grovers and Tornadoes:
KEYS TO THE GAME (OAK GROVE EDITION):
1. Defense, a must have: Oak Grove’s explosive offense is well known, but the defense led by seniors Austin Promersberger and Nick Card. Promersberger is a “defense first” player and adds a different dynamic to the team. He also is an all-state defender in soccer. Card is good for a couple blocked shots a game as well.
2. Perimeter game: When the Grovers get in a groove from beyond the arc they are tough to slow down. Carter Kretchman and Christian Adams are Oak Groves primary shooters from the perimeter, but sixth-man Isaac Olson and junior Blake Richards have proved they can convert 3-pointers as well.
3. Account for Ethan Zetocha and Tristan Meier: Zetocha and Meier combined for four 3-pointers in Tuesday’s win over Enderlin. Match that output with the contributions of Bryce Meehl and the Tornadoes quickly have an offense that can stack up with Oak Grove. If the Grovers cut off those sources of offense, it could be a long night for the Tornadoes.
KEYS TO THE GAME (OAKES EDITION):
1. Know where Carter Kretchman is at all times: This task is easier said than done. Kretchman has combined for 51 points in the Region 1 tournament and has hit a total of 10 3-pointers in the first two games. If the game gets out of hand in Oak Grove’s favor it will likely be the work of this 5-foot-9 sharp-shooting guard.
2. The Value “Meehl” Deal: On Tuesday night Bryce Meehl got to the free-throw line a lot – 22 times to be exact. Meehl hit 20 of those 22 charity throws and finished with a game-high 35 points. That is value. Meehl’s ability to drive inside is a strength for Oakes and they’ll need it again tonight.
3. Be within striking distance at the fourth quarter: In both of their wins at the Region 1 tournament the Tornadoes have had strong fourth quarters. Head coach Brandon Bata said that’s been a big strength for his team all season long and if Oakes hangs around, the final eight minutes could be very interesting.