With a record of 13 wins and six losses, a second place ranking in Region 2B, and two solid wins in post season play, the Mighty Potter County Battlers earned an invitation to be part of the SoDak 16 Tournament Playoffs. The Battlers were given a 12th seed, and their challengers were to be the fifth seeded DeSmet Bulldogs, who had an 18 and 2 season record, ranked number one in their region 3B, and had their own wins in regional play.
This showdown between these two titans to see who would earn a berth in the South Dakota State Class B Boys Tournament in Aberdeen took place on March 5 at the neutral site in Miller, the home of the Rustlers.
There was nothing but great anticipation to watch the Potter County Battlers roll into the Rustlers gymnasium to take on a much bigger and higher ranked team because defeating giants had become part of their repertoire and notoriety. Unfortunately, the Battlers started off extremely sluggish, and if not for senior Cole Nafziger scoring five points in the first quarter, the Bulldogs would have most likely won the game right then and there. The only other players scoring for the home team were bench players Dylan Drew and Grant Luikens, and they only had one basket apiece to make the score 15 to 9.
It was Nafziger to again lead the way for the Battlers in the second quarter with four more points. And with four other teammates contributing as well, Potter County got within four points of the Bulldogs at the end of half, 25 to 21.
Hope was still high but an unsettling ease had emerged because the high octane offense and smothering defense that the Battlers had thrived on all season was fleeting in this first half of play. They were 0 for 4 in attempts behind the 19 foot 9 inch arc, which, as everyone knows, had routinely been their bread and butter for scoring and neutralizing bigger teams’ defensively all season long.
Then in the third period of play the Battlers found their spark and looked like the team they had been throughout the season. Four players scored and Kolten Kirby finally netted a 3-point shot. In addition, their defense came through as well. Only two Bulldogs scored, but these baskets were 3-point shots because the Battlers stymied everything inside. And what brought even more hope to the hometown fans was senior Dawson Simon was scoring buckets and tearing it up defensively. So everyone was standing and applauding when the third quarter expired because the score was now 36 to 35 – just one point behind.
However, as in the first quarter, the fourth quarter proved to be just as sluggish for the red and white. Only three players scored, the ball was turned over frequently, and their only option to shut down the onslaught towards the end of the game was for the Battlers to purposely foul the Bulldogs in hopes to get the ball back. Sadly the strategy failed because the team from DeSmet made 7 of their 8 attempts from the free-throw line. So when the final buzzer blew to validate who was moving on to the state tournament, the scoreboard showed 56 to 44 in favor of the team wearing the maroon and gold.
In reflection, Simon stated that, “We never got into our rhythm with our offense and it was the worst we shot all season.” Simon also stressed that they had expected to get to the free-throw line more but such did not go as planned. He also gave credit to DeSmet’s defense because it was solid and did not allow him and others to get their shots off as they had hoped and done so throughout the year. As for a bright spot in their loss, Simon expressed that they held the Bulldogs well under their season scoring average – 64 per game. So he believed if they could have clicked more offensively the outcome may have been different.
It was definitely not the Battlers’ night because they only made 2 out 14 three-point shots, shot 3 out of 6 from the free-throw line, and turned over the ball 13 times. These stats weighed heavily on Simon because he would have liked nothing more than to have made a return appearance to the Big Dance as he did in his freshman year. But to his and his teams’ self-assessment, they still had a great season in that they created so many great memories, solidified relationships that go back to the third grade years, and accomplished more than they ever dreamed.
There is no doubt to anyone who loves high school basketball that this was an absolutely enjoyable year to watch the red and white run up and down the basketball court taking on one challenger after another. And even though the final curtain has fallen on the seniors — Cole Nafziger, Peyton Drew, Calen Decker, Taylor Frost, Shad Sharp, Kolten Kirby, and Dawson Simon — they left their imprint on all who saw them. As sad as it may be for them to never don a Potter County jersey again, these six players deserve everyone’s appreciation and admiration because they have more than represented the red and white well for the past four years. More importantly, the underclassmen have been left with a legacy by these graduating seniors that should give them the inspiration to achieve greatness, too, come next basketball season.
De Smet 56
Potter County 44
Class B SoDak 16 at Miller
Potter County 9 12 14 9 – 44
De Smet 15 10 11 20 – 56
POTTER COUNTY: Cole Nafziger 16, Calen Decker 1, Kolten Kirby 6, Shad Sharp 6, Dawson Simon 7, Dylan Drew 2, Grant Luikens 6.
DE SMET: Rhett Osthus 7, Kalen Garry 16, Cody Cavanaugh 6, Ethan McCune 6, Trevin Holland 19, Tory Holland 2.
3-pt. FG – PC 3 (Kirby 2, Nafziger 1); DS 5 (Tr. Holland 3, McCune 1, Osthus 1). Fouls – PC 13; DS 11.