With four seconds left in overtime and the game all but decided, St. Mary's boys basketball coach Brent DeKok put both fists in the air as his team was finally able to solve top-ranked Century.
The third time was the charm for the Saints against the Patriots and the stakes were much higher than the previous two times the schools had met earlier this season.
After losing both regular-season meetings by a combined three points, the Saints won the matchup that mattered most, but it took an extra four minutes. Nonetheless, St. Mary's punched its ticket to the Class A state title game with a 67-62 win in overtime against the Patriots in the semifinals on Friday at the Minot State Dome. The Saints (20-4) play Fargo Davies tonight at 8 in the championship.
"I'm so happy and so proud of these kids," DeKok said. "This is our third chance at the state tournament. The first two years we came here we lost in the first round. It was very disappointing for our kids and I'm just so happy for them and proud of the effort they gave tonight."
The Saints appeared poised to win the game in regulation, but Century sophomore guard Dalton Feeney came up with a steal in the backcourt and converted a layup with less than a second left to tie the game at 54 and send it to overtime. Prior to Feeney's bucket, senior guard Robert Hutchins had a look at a game-winning 3-pointer, but it hit off the rim and into the Saints' hands.
Despite giving up the last-second basket, St. Mary's remained focused.
"We all looked each other in the eye and said 'This is what it's all about. This is what we put the last four years into. It is now or never.' We had confidence going in that we had to do it," St. Mary's senior Ben Weisbeck said. "We had to win."
Century senior Tyler Rudolph gave the Patriots a 56-54 lead in overtime before St. Mary's senior guard Darius Sparks knocked down the Saints' only attempt from behind the arc in the extra frame. St. Mary's grabbed a 59-56 advantage on senior forward Scott Nagel's layup off a steal at halfcourt.
"It was big buckets toward the end, sharing the ball and being aggressive because we were in the bonus," Sparks said. "We were attacking the rim and we were able to get to the free-throw line and execute."
The Patriots (22-2) cut the Saints' lead to one on three occasions in overtime, but St. Mary's always had an answer. A 3-point play by Rudolph brought Century within 63-62, but Weisbeck scored at the other end to put the Saints up three with less than a minute left.
"We couldn't stop them from scoring," Century coach Darin Mattern said. "When they're shooting free throws every possession, it's hard to win the basketball game."
Hutchins' game-tying 3 was off the mark and Weisbeck hit two free throws to ice it.
"It was a great team effort tonight and I couldn't be more proud of everybody," Weisbeck said. "We've been dreaming about this since we were kids."
The semifinal was much like the two meetings during the regular season: close. St. Mary's led nearly the entire first half, but never had more than a six-point cushion.
It was the opposite in the second half as the Patriots enjoyed the lead, but they never led by more than three. The Saints were able to stay close with free throws. They took advantage of the double bonus as 10 of their final 12 points in regulation came at the charity stripe.
Sparks finished with a game-high 19 points and Weisbeck (13) and senior guard Ross Kopp (12) also finished in double figures. Weisbeck also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rudolph and Feeney each tallied 16 points to lead the Patriots, who play Fargo South in the third-place game today at 3:30 p.m. at the MSU Dome.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.