‘Cream of the crop’

Brad Heidlebaugh is used to being Rugby’s go-to option on offense, but the 6-foot-4 junior had to shoulder a larger role Saturday with his team battling foul trouble.

He responded with a team-high 25 points and a game-high 13 rebounds as the fourth-ranked Panthers defeated Bishop Ryan 70-62 in a battle of undefeated Region 6 squads.

For a brief moment, it looked like Rugby would be without its top scorer after he hit the back of his head on the hardwood in the final minutes of the first quarter. Heidlebaugh lost his footing attempting to block a shot and his head snapped back as he hit the ground. He passed a concussion test and returned before the end of the first quarter.

“Anytime a kid bumps their head a little bit, let’s make sure the kid’s OK first and we’ll worry about basketball later,” Rugby coach Mike Santjer said. “When that happens you’re always a little worried because he is a very important part of our team.”

The Panthers (5-0) needed Heidlebaugh in the lineup with junior center Zach Miller picking up his third foul just five minutes into the game. Before that, Ryan (2-1) scored the contest’s first eight points as seniors Austin Eggl and Nick Berentson knocked down the Lions’ first two 3-point attempts.

Rugby responded in the second quarter and took its first lead at 24-23 with 5 minutes, 15 seconds left in the half when senior guard Chris Hamilton hit his second of three 3s. Three treys by Ryan gave it a six-point lead late, but Rugby junior Tanner Bernhardt hit from beyond the arc at the buzzer to swing momentum in the Panthers’ favor. Bernhardt finished with 14 points.

“It gave us a huge energy boost,” Santjer said. “We had some kids that went a lot of long minutes tonight. Anything to get that adrenaline pumping and get them going was useful.”

An 8-0 run to start the second half gave Rugby a 42-37 lead. With Miller back on the floor, Rugby’s two big men took advantage of its size down low, scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points in the third quarter. The Lions switched from man-to-man to 2-3 zone trying to limit Rugby’s inside game. The zone opened up the outside for the Panthers’ shooters, but they went cold at the right time for Ryan.

“It’s all give-and-take,” Ryan coach Brock Teets said of finding the right defense. “Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. It’s not just Heidlebaugh. Miller is a big kid and is very skilled. They have shooters. They’ve got athleticism. That’s a very good basketball team.”

The Lions drew a fourth foul on Miller with 3:17 left in the third and drew even at 50 in the final minute of the frame. But Heidlebaugh added a basket and Hamilton drained another 3 at the buzzer for a five-point advantage. Hamilton had 11 points.

Miller’s replacement – sophomore forward Hunter Hager – added four points off the bench.

“We play with a team concept, so when Zach went out, Hunter came in and played really good,” Heidlebaugh said. “I carried a little bit more (of the offense) inside, but we all played really good on the outside.”

The Panthers took their largest lead of the game at 64-54 on Heidlebaugh’s final bucket of the game.

Ryan senior guard Brody Bosch kept the Lions close and was their primary source of scoring in the second half. Bosch scored 17 of his game-high 26 points after the break, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line. He finished 11-for-13 from the charity stripe. The Lions cut Rugby’s lead to four, but the Panthers hit their free-throws down the stretch to ice it.

“Rugby is the defending Region 6 champs and right now they look like the cream of the crop,” Teets said.

Heidlebaugh finished 12-for-12 from the line and the Panthers went 23 of 29 as a team.

Rugby travels to play Harvey-Wells County on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Ryan plays at Dunseith on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.