History at stake

FARGO – As it turns out, Julie Stewart is the only person in the Class B girls basketball world who doesn’t have a clue that Bishop Ryan is 32 minutes from history.

“We have a winning streak going? Do we have something going on here that I don’t know of?” she teasingly asked the media with a laugh.

Stewart derived a relatively worry-free attitude from the top-ranked Lions’ 54-34 rout of No. 8 Central Cass in the state tournament semifinals Friday night at the Fargodome.

The Lions, unbeaten since March 15, 2012, can tie the state record for consecutive wins with a victory over No. 3 Shiloh Christian in tonight’s 8:30 title game.

“The thing is, they’ve been here before,” Stewart said. “All year long their thoughts are on, ‘How can we be better? How can we be better as a group?’

“They understand defense. They need to be ready to play. They need to be ready to move, get in position. Offensively, they can’t rush.”

When they’re playing unexceptionally, the Lions (27-0) can beat anyone. When they’re at their best – for instance, the first six minutes of the second quarter – they’re untouchable.

Ryan hiked its lead to 27 with a 20-0 run that began at the start of the second quarter and ended 2:05 before halftime.

Senior guard Anika Rovig hit two corner 3-pointers, classmate Laurin Leidholt knocked down two mid-range jumpers, while a trio of juniors accounted for the rest. Gabbie Bohl converted three shots in the paint, Hannah Stewart made a nifty post move for a layup and Maddie Wald swished a pull-up jumper that gave the Lions a 32-5 advantage.

Rovig, Leidholt and Wald’s jumpers tore the Squirrels’ 2-3 zone to shreds.

“One of our game plans was to take away the inside,” Central Cass coach Ryan Mears said. “And so when we came out in that zone, it was pick our poison with them. We chose to take away the inside and they had some girls step up and knock down some 3s. That’s what good teams do.”

The offensive outburst staked Ryan out to a lead that anything short of a miracle couldn’t erase.

Central Cass (23-4) made runs – like it did in the 2013 state championship when Ryan survived 54-50 – but never shriveled the deficit down to single digits. The Squirrels scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter that – at 43-32 with 5:31 remaining – made Ryan sweat.

“They never quit, they never let up, they knocked down some shots and they came out kind of scrappy,” Julie Stewart said. “We started to settle. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do when you’re ahead.”

But the Lions responded with an 9-0 run of their own.

As it iced the game, Ryan returned to the principles that silenced Central Cass’ crowd in the second frame. The Lions forced turnovers and created in transition – a recipe that’s worked 56 times in a row.

“There’s always nerves and there’s always that thing in the back of your head that says they might catch up,” said Hannah Stewart, who had 15 points and 11 boards. “I have a lot of faith in our team and I think we have a lot of faith in each other. I think we know how to stay calm no matter what the score is.”

Bohl finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds – including six on the offensive glass – and Wald scored all 10 of her points before halftime.

Senior forward Faith Dooley, a Miss Basketball finalist, paced Central Cass with 11 points. The Squirrels managed 13-of-44 shooting (29 percent) and just 23 rebounds to Ryan’s 38, while committing 20 turnovers. They play Beach at 6 p.m. tonight for third place.

Now – finally – Ryan’s one-game-at-a-time mentality allows it to focus on the championship game. But as goes their coach, the Lions aren’t giving a thought to the streak or the possibility of becoming the sixth team in Class B history to claim consecutive titles.

Just win, baby.

“Shiloh is a good team and we’re going to have to focus more on their guards penetrating than their guards kicking to the post like the last two teams,” Wald said. “It’s going to be a different game, but hopefully we can take on their guards just as well.”

Semifinal: No. 3 Shiloh 52, No. 7 Beach 43

No. 7-ranked and unseeded Beach held early leads, but couldn’t pull off a second straight upset.

The Buccaneers were within 44-40 in the final three minutes, but finished the game ice cold.

Gabby Wilkinson and Jaye Two Bears led the Skyhawks with 17 and 15 points, respectively. Hailee Farstveet was Beach’s lone double-figure scorer with 11.

Shiloh Christian made more free throws (19) than Beach attempted (17).

The Skyhawks (25-1) advance to their first state championship game in school history. Shiloh Christian (25-1) has won 24 consecutive games since losing to Bishop Ryan 77-43 on Dec. 21.

Consolation semifinal: Kidder County 56, No. 2 Thompson 53

Since putting together a 23-game winning streak, No. 2 Thompson has dropped two games in as many days.

The Tommies were outscored 17-13 in the fourth quarter in the consolation semifinal loss. Kidder County rebounded from a quarterfinal defeat to No. 3 Shiloh Christian and will play No. 6 Lakota-Edmore at 3 p.m. today for fifth place.

Thompson’s Shannon Galegher posted game highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds, but had little help from her supporting cast.

Kidder County, which shot 10 percent better than the Tommies (48 to 38), received a balanced attack from three double-figure scorers. Sadie Rohrich poured in a team-high 14 points, followed by Morgan Rohrich and Abby Randall with 10 points each.

Thompson plays Watford City at 1 p.m. today for seventh place.