Bismarck aims to take the next step

Last season, Bismarck’s claim to the West Region tournament championship came as a surprise to most, upsetting eventual state champion Century in the title game. The Demons accompished the same feat again in 2014, a 64-61 win over the Patriots on Saturday, but this time around, the result was far less shocking.

Bismarck (20-2), the West Region’s regular-season champion and top seed, will take on East Region No. 4 seed Valley City (15-5) in the first round of the Class A state tournament at 1 p.m. today at the Minot Municipal Auditorium.

Led by all-region selection Keisha Engelhardt, who is averaging a double-double (17.9 ppg., 10.8 rpg.), Bismarck’s clear strength is its ability to score. The Demons average 73.9 points per game this season, 7.2 more than any other team.

“It’s a rarity for my teams to score that many points. We usually hang our hat on the defensive end of the floor,” Bismarck coach Dallas Hinderer said. “We have a lot of depth, and we usually end up in situations where we can push the basketball and can get trasition baskets through our defense.”

Engelhardt, a 5-9 senior post, was also an all-West Region tournament selection and an Energy Classic all-tournament team honoree. She is the region’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. Her 78.1-percent clip from the charity stripe ranks fourth in the region.

“(Keisha) understands that she has to work hard to do the things that we ask her to do, and she’s willing to do those things,” said Hinderer, the region coach of the year. “She’s definitely undersized for the position that we’re playing her. She obviously has to work hard, but that just shows how great her work ethic is.”

Bismarck’s success scoring has been well-dispersed throughout the team.

Senior Courtney Trolliey ranks second on the team and sixth in the region with 15.1 points per game. Classmate Kenzie Kiefer also chips in 12.7 points per game.

The primary facilitator for the Demons, Ashley Hilzendenger, finished the regular season with the third-highest assist total in the state (88). Hilzendenger also registered a state-best 92 steals.

Senior leadership was a concern for the Demons this season, particularly after graduating three starters last spring, but the remaining players have carried their share of the load, evidenced by the team’s final position in the region standings.

“We have seven seniors on our team, and we rely on all seven,” Hinderer said. “We had a deep team last year, and for some of these girls, this will be their third trip to the state tournament. We’re going to rely on the fact that we’ve been here before and we know what to expect.”

Bismarck finished fourth at the state tournament last season. The Demons have made consecutive appearances in the Class A semifinals, coming up short both times.

They hope this year is different, but aren’t looking too far ahead.

“We’re focused on Valley City right now, and they’re a very good basketball team,” Hinderer said. “That’s the nice thing about this group. We don’t overlook anything. Our focus is playing our best basketball each and every night.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.