Four years ago, the Fargo Davies boys basketball team began its inaugural season, unaware that it would be hoisting its first state title sooner than most would have anticipated.
Through all the hardships that come with building a program from the ground up, there was one player that was there through it all. Therefore, it seemed fitting senior guard Andrew Kozlowski knocked down the 3-pointer that gave the Eagles the lead for good in his final game Saturday.
Kozlowski a four-year starter for Davies finished with 16 points and put the exclamation mark on his career by scoring the game's final point in a 62-55 victory over St. Mary's in the Class A state tournament championship at the Minot State Dome.
St. Mary’s seniors Brian Obritch (15) and Darius Sparks (23) defend Fargo Davies senior Tanner Kretchman in traffic on Saturday in the Class A state championship game at the Minot State Dome.
Fargo Davies’ Austin Schultz (5) drives as St. Mary’s senior Darius Sparks defends.
"It's just confidence," Kozlowski said. "It's hard down the stretch to have that confidence, but my players trusted me with the ball and I luckily came through."
Davies senior guard Tanner Kretchman caught fire in the second half, shooting 8 of 12 in the final 18 minutes to finish with a game-high 32 points.
"When you have two kids like we have, you always had the chance," Davies coach Bart Manson said. "We had a good feeling. We rattled off 15 straight to win one. We just started clicking. We started playing our best basketball at the end of the year."
Manson has coached the Eagles since the program's inception.
It didn't start well for Davies, with the Saints scoring the game's first five points. Darius Sparks converted a three-point play on the Saints' first possession and Ben Weisbeck and Scott Nagel added a free throw each.
St. Mary's hounded Kretchman, having nearly every starter defend him. Kretchman struggled early, and the Eagles' suffered as a result. Davies missed its first five shots before Kozlowski broke the drought three minutes in. Kretchman added his first bucket on the ensuing possession to close within one.
Foul trouble plagued the Eagles, with Dylan Berg picking up two quick ones less than a minute into the game. Grant Geffre was also whistled for two first-half fouls and Austin Schultz picked up his third 4:17 before the intermission.
Sparks and Grant Dvorak connected from distance during an 11-4 run to give the Saints a 16-8 lead with 9:16 left in the opening half. But their offense went cold from there, allowing the Eagles to make a run of their own.
Collin Larson hit two treys and Kretchman found his scoring touch from inside the arc. Kretchman's third field goal gave the Eagles their first lead of the game at 21-20 with 1:05 left in the half. His final bucket of the first half put Davies in front 23-22 at the break.
The Eagles shot 34 percent in the first half and went 2-for-12 from behind the arc. Yet, Manson wasn't concerned.
"We talked at halftime just amongst the coaches that shots were going to start falling," he said. "Tanner had to get himself going. I think right at the end of the first half, he made a couple baskets. That was huge carryover for us into the second half."
Kretchman scored 16 of the Eagles' first 20 points to open the second half. He hit his first 3 with 7:31 left to tie the game at 40. In a span of 30 seconds, Kretchman hit two treys to answer 3s by Kopp and Sparks.
"We just had to keep battling," Kretchman said. "We knew shots were going to fall if we kept shooting them. That's the team we have. I knew if we got one to go, it would be a snowball effect and we'd start to pick it up."
The Saints couldn't keep up with Davies' high-octane offense, which finally found its rhythm late in the second half. Kretchman and Kozlowski provided the bulk of the scoring down the stretch. The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
"With a kid like (Kretchman) that has that much talent, sometimes it's just a matter of time before he's going to make shots," St. Mary's coach Brent DeKok said. "They're a great team. They have a lot of good players and they have great coaches. I'm just so proud to say that I'm the coach here at St. Mary's."
Weisbeck scored the Saints' final eight points and finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Sparks led St. Mary's with 21 points.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.