Giant killers

Jayden Moum’s Christmas wish arrived three months late.

At a team holiday party in December, Moum, the Minot High girls basketball team’s lone senior, set her sights on not only a state tournament berth, but a spot in the championship game.

On Friday afternoon, the unranked Majettes delivered Moum’s belated gift – a feat so rare in school history, they might have borrowed some of Santa’s magic to accomplish it.

Minot, which upset No. 2 West Fargo a day prior, knocked off top-ranked Bismarck 57-52 at the Minot State Dome to advance to tonight’s Class A state tournament championship game.

“We set our goal to make it to state itself, and we got here,” Moum said. “At the Christmas party, I was like, ‘No, let’s make it to the championship game, not just to state.’ I couldn’t be happier.”

The Majettes (16-8), who play No. 3 Fargo Shanley at 6 tonight at the Dome, punched their ticket to the title game for the first time since 2001 and the fifth time in program history. They are 1-3 in past appearances, claiming their lone championship trophy in 1978.

“It’s a great day for Majette basketball,” sixth-year Minot coach Todd Magnuson said. “They haven’t been back here since 2001. That was their goal.”

For the third straight game, Minot dominated defensively, holding its opponent under 30 percent from the field. The Majettes, who led the final 30 minutes, held Bismarck (21-3) to a 27.4-percent shooting performance.

“I think that our defense is really what won us the game,” said Minot junior point guard Sophie Bengson, who finished with 11 points. “We were hustling and we just did everything we could on defense.”

Long-range shooting aided their effort as well. Minot knocked down 6 of 16 attempts from 3-point land, including four first-half treys that helped it seize a 31-22 halftime lead. The Majettes, who average 7.8 3-pointers per game, drilled 10 on Thursday against West Fargo.

“We live and die by the 3 and it’s working for us,” said Minot sophomore forward Cassie Askvig, who tallied a game-high 19 points to go with nine rebounds. “We’re going to keep it going one more time. It’s awesome. We’re believing in each other. Everyone can shoot the 3, so it’s going really well.”

Bengson drained a triple from the left wing to cap a 9-0 run late in the first half that broke the game open. That spurt, which spanned 4:35, spotted Minot a 27-14 lead with 2:40 left in the opening frame. The Majettes expanded their lead to 14 before Bismarck ran off five straight points to end the half.

“I thought my kids were ready to shoot tonight,” Magnuson said. “I thought we took some great shots. I thought we attacked the basket when we needed to. I thought we got the ball into Cassie, and Cassie had a great game inside for us.”

Minot slowed down the game in the first 18 minutes, which featured just 31 total possessions. The Demons – who average a state-high 72.4 points per game, 12.6 better than the Majettes – appeared out of their comfort zone.

Minot finished the first half with a 20-18 rebounding advantage and trailed just 1-0 in second-chance points. By limiting Bismarck to seven field goals, the Majettes rarely had to deal with the speedy Demons’ beloved full-court pressure.

“We rebounded, pulled them out of that game,” Askvig said. “We slowed things down, set things up and took our time and that’s what we knew we had to do to win the game.”

Added Magnuson: “We didn’t get into a running game with Bismarck.”

In the second half, the 6-foot-1 Askvig dealt with foul trouble. She picked up her fourth foul with 9:02 remaining and went to the bench with her team holding a 44-38 lead. The Majettes struggled without her rebounding prowess, as Bismarck held a 13-5 advantage in second-half offensive rebounds and finished the frame plus-11 in second-chance points.

“It’s always nerve-wracking when Cassie gets in foul trouble for us because we never know what’s going to happen,” Magnuson said.

But the Demons’ shooting woes remained, and Askvig returned with 4:53 left and a six-point lead. Bismarck senior forward Courtney Trolliey only tallied two of her team-high 17 points with Askvig on the bench.

“Sierra and McKale did a great job defensively on Trolliey when they were on her,” Magnuson said. “I thought we did a good job covering for Cassie when she was out.”

Back-to-back layups by Trolliey and senior guard Kylee Leingang trimmed the Demons’ deficit to 51-50 with 2:19 to play. But Bismarck missed its final seven field goal attempts.

“Those are the times you’d hope you kind of excel,” Bismarck coach Dallas Hinderer said. “But Minot did a great job of making our shots difficult. They got hands up and they got real physical with us.”

Askvig, Bengson and Moum combined to hit five free throws in the final 94 seconds to pull off an upset few outside of the Majettes locker room saw coming. Few expected them to even reach their first state semifinal in 13 years.

“We believed that we could do it,” Askvig said. “We knew other people didn’t expect it, but we expected it of ourselves. That’s why we’ve got so far.”

Added Moum: “We knew that it really didn’t matter what we were ranked going in because anything can happen during tournament time. We’ve proved that out there this weekend.”

Minot’s robust defense held each of Bismarck’s players under 50 percent from the field. Senior forward Keisha Engelhardt had 15 points and 16 rebounds, while Leingang added 12 points.

The Majettes have reached the state tournament – their top goal at the beginning of the season – and delivered Moum’s Christmas wish with care. Their second state championship, and first in 36 years is 36 minutes away.

“We’re going to enjoy the night tomorrow night,” Magnuson said. “We got to the championship, but we’re not done. We want to enjoy it, but we want to win it, too.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.