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Junior Bailee Pierce celebrates the too-close-for-comfort victory over a stubborn Heart River team Thursday by a 40-37 score. The win gave the squad a trip to the three-day state Class B tournament in Minot, starting March 4. PHOTOS/Brad Mosher

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Samantha Oase #4913.tiff

Senior Samantha Oase (3) holds up the regional title trophy after the awards ceremony Thursday (Feb. 25).

The seventh seed made it to the Region 7 tournament championship game Thursday after eliminating the second and third-ranked teams.

But the upset streak ended against the Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks.

The victory didn’t come easy for the defending champions, in spite the fact Heart River lost starter and all-region player Caylee Wilke to injury in its semifinal victory over Dickinson Trinity two nights earlier.

The two teams dueled back and forth through most of the first half, with the Night Hawks holding a 12- 9 lead after one quarter and 20-18 at the half.

But it was in the third quarter that the champions were able to break away a little, outscoring the Heart River squad by an 11-4 margin to take a 31-22 lead going into the final eight minutes.

However, the Cougars rallied in the fourth quarter.

Heart River went on a quick 6-0 run to cut the lead to just 31-28 in the first two minutes.

It took Casitee Miller to end the scoring shut out with a free throw with 5:39 left.

But the Cougars cut it to just a two-point lead (32-30) moments later.

Back-to-back-to-back baskets by Bailee Pierce, Laela Jensen Oase built up a 38-30 advantage with just over three minutes left, but the Cougars still mounted another comeback.

Sage Froelich hit her only three-pointer of the game with 1:33 on the clock and trimmed the lead to 38- 33.

Oase pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled with 50 seconds left in the game. The senior sank both free throws to make the lead 40-33.

Froelich’s basket with 41 seconds left tightened the score to 40-35, then she stole the ball for another quick score with 29 seconds on the clock.

Ahead by just three points in the final 21 seconds, the Night Hawks saw the Cougars get a jump ball with 21 seconds left, but were unable to score any more points before the time ran out and Hettinger- Scranton had secured another Region 7 tournament crown.

Tough preparation

According to coach Kelly Pierce, the Cougars were shorthanded and were tough for the top-seed Night Hawks.

“We are going to enjoy this one (win) for the next day or two then watch some film and get ready for Minot (the site of the state tournament),” he said after the win.

The Night Hawks will play the top seed in the state tournament in Thursday’s opening round.

“We hope to make some noise when we get up there,” he added.

But against the Cougars, the Night Hawks couldn’t quite break the game open. “They made a lot of big shots and they made a lot of plays,” he said, praising the short-handed Cougars. “They are a well- coached team and they worked extremely hard.

“We played more zone tonight (Thursday) against that team than we have in all of our other games combined because of the match ups and the size.

“Offensively, we really struggled tonight, but the perseverence and the toughness of this team really came through and we were able to get the win.

“We had some turnovers down the stretch, but we got the job done. We dug in there and played good hard-nose defense,” he added.

Oase leads scoring

Oase found herself the center of attention for the Heart River defenders, battling against two and sometimes three defenders when she got the ball inside.

Still, the senior from Scranton finished with 15 points to lead all scorers.

Junior Bailee Pierce had nine points, while Laela Jensen put in six. Ella Jensen scored three, while three players (Sidra Sadowsky, Beth Lien and Ally Schalesky) finished with two points apiece. Miller added one free throw.

Froelich led the Cougars with 11 points, while Meg Silbernagel added eight and Jordan Buckman put in six points. Leilani Privratsky and Jersey Filkowski each added five points. Abby Talkington scored two points.

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