Balanced Wildcats could play spoiler

Typically, a one-loss team doesn’t consider itself a decisive underdog to any opponent.

But typically that team isn’t facing the undefeated, unanimous No. 1 team in the state.

Region 4 champion Benson County (24-1) is relishing its long-shot status as it prepares for tonight’s matchup with top-ranked Bishop Ryan in the first round of the Class B girls basketball state tournament.

“We have no pressure on us,” Benson County coach Kent Neppl said. “Nobody even expected us to be here and we’re the underdog. We just wanna go out and play well and be great competition for Bishop Ryan.”

By qualifying for the state tournament, the Wildcats proved they’re among the few teams in the state that can give the Lions trouble.

In the region championship game, Benson County got past returning all-state post Fallyn Freije and Lakota-Adams-Edmore – experience that could prove useful against Ryan’s daunting frontcourt. The Lions boast a pair of productive 6-foot-2 sophomore forwards in Hannah Stewart (21.5 point, 10.5 rebounds per game) and Gabbie Bohl (15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

The Wildcats also have size – though not as much as Ryan – with 5-foot-11 senior Meghan Jorgenson and 6-foot senior Becca Eberle.

“Lakota, they’ve got really good players and I thought we did pretty well on them,” said Benson County senior Sara Schwanke, the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 point per game. “We have two big girls who I think match up with Bishop’s big girls.”

Neppl said his team’s strengths are solid man-to-man defense and offensive balance. Benson County’s top five scorers average more than 7.6 points per game.

“We play good man defense, we help out,” Neppl said. “We play team basketball. We have a leading scorer, but everyone on the court can put the ball in the basket when they need to.”

Benson County enters the state tournament having won 17 in a row, with its lone loss a 71-65 setback to North Star in January.

It’s the Wildcats’ third year as a co-op of Maddock and Leeds and the first time the combo has reached the season’s final weekend. Leeds last made the tournament in 2008, taking fifth place.

While the Wildcats have a tough draw to improve upon that finish, Schwanke is confident her team can pull the upset.

“I think we’re playing our best basketball right now,” she said. “Everyone’s clicking.”