ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — 2020 was supposed to be Aberdeen Christian’s first shot to win a state championship, but the COVID-19 pandemic denied them a chance to even step foot on the floor in Aberdeen.
Just over a year later, the Knights found themselves back in the state tournament with a chance to reach the class ‘B’ title game.
Aberdeen Christian was ready for their first semifinal in school history as they came out red hot.
The Knights powered their way to a 26-16 lead after one quarter of play.
“It was a really exciting first quarter. I thought the pace and the tempo was really exciting,” Aberdeen Christian head coach David Rohrbach said. “Obviously, it’s fun to hit shots and we came out and hit some shots and it gave our guys some confidence early. Definitely good to see shots fall early in an intense game.”
That’s when the pace of the game slowed down and that was exactly what Aberdeen Christian wanted. The Knights average just 56 points per game offensively, so a slow paced game, with a ten point lead is exactly how they wanted to play.
Each team tallied ten points in the second quarter, keeping the lead at ten, 36-26.
The Knights held the Cardinals to just eight points in the third quarter as their lead grew to 46-34.
In the fourth quarter, Dell Rapids St. Mary made their run. Trailing 51-37, the Cardinals went on an 11-2 run to cut the Aberdeen Christian lead to 53-48.
“The fourth quarter felt like an eternity, especially when you’re trying to hold the lead,” Rohrbach said. “We were just telling [our players] that we had timeouts if we got into trouble and the biggest thing was to rebound and keep making life as difficult as possible for every shot, especially on [Connor] Libis. He puts so much pressure on the defense.”
Aberdeen Christian would do their job down the stretch, knocking down a couple shots and enough free throws to earn a semifinal win.
Dell Rapids St. Mary was held to just 53 points which is 13 less than their season average. The main reason for that success was due to the the defensive success of slowing down Connor Libis.
“We had to just contest everything and keep him in front as much as possible,” Rohrbach said. “He’s quick and so he’s going to get by you at times, but we had to make sure we had a help defender ready to step up.”
Libis shot just 5-18, with 5 of his 14 points coming from the free throw line.
The Knights were led by a trio of sophomores that all finished in double digits including a game high 18 points from Ethan Russell. Malek Wieker added 17, while Jackson Isakson finished with 12.
Aberdeen Christian will now play in their first ever state championship, where they will meet tournament favorite and top-seeded De Smet.
“We’ll have to go put together a game plan and it’s no secret who they have, you know. We know that Kalen Garry is really good. You know you’ve seen them because the last couple years they have been here,” Rohrbach said. “The biggest thing is to make life difficult and contest everything. Hopefully, we’re clicking on offense and can get some stops as well.”
Saturday’s class ‘B’ state championship will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. Follow @KELOSweeter on Twitter for in game updates.