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East No. 4 seed Valley City trailed only 28-22 at halftime of Thursday's State Tournament quarterfinal against West Region champion Bismarck, but three Demons scored in double figures to help their side survive for a 60-50 win.
"They kept the pressure on us by keeping the score at eight to 10 points, and we could never find that small answer to extend it to our favor," Hi-Liner head coach Waylan Starr said. "The dream of being a champion is done, but these girls are champions to a lot of people and they can come out as the fifth-place consolation champion. The only difference is the word in front of it."
Valley City continues their eighth State appearance since 1974 - and their first since 2005 - in Friday's 4 p.m. consolation semifinal against East No. 2 West Fargo, who fell 62-59 to West No. 2 seed Minot on Thursday at the Minot Auditorium.
The Hi-Liners can have the last laugh by eliminating the Packers, who took the first three matchups this season from the Hi-Liners 55-51 in Valley City on Jan. 7, 62-51 in Fargo on Feb. 11 and 59-47 in March 7's Eastern Dakota Conference Tournament semifinal.
"Here we go, Blue, here we go," chanted and clapped the traveling Columbia blue Hi-Liner fans in force on both sides of the court.
Hi-Liner 6-foot sophomore center Brenna Dieterle, who finished the afternoon with nine points, worked the left block with drop steps against Bismarck senior forwards Courtney Trolliey and Keisha Engelhardt.
"We had girls coming off the bench - Brenna and [junior guard] Sadie [Klingenberg] - who helped us at any given time," Starr said. "We have to find a way now to get the offensive output to match our defensive output so it doesn't have to work so hard."
Despite Demon steals that powered their end-to-end transition attack, Valley City's physical post game kept the score close. Senior forward Dierra Diegel's full-court skip pass intended for senior forward Danica Diegel beneath the Bismarck basket sailed long but made a statement that Valley City is better than their fourth-place East Region finish.
Bismarck senior guard McKenzie Kiefer's trey from the right gave her the first three of her 14-point effort and put the Demons up 26-20 late in the half, but Danica Diegel's layup for two of her six first-half points, and junior guard Claire Olson's jumper from the top of the key for two of her 10 points in the contest, kept the deficit to only six at 28-22 at halftime.
A flurry of traded points opened the second half before Dieterle got the post game going again with moves on the left block over Trolliey and Demon senior forward Estee Schmidt. Dierra Diegel got behind the Bismarck zone and joined the post scoring party from the right for two of her team-high 18 points.
Danica Diegel pulled down offensive rebound after offensive rebound to keep Hi-Liner possessions alive, but Engelhardt's three-pointer from the right put Bismarck up 48-38 for their first double-digit lead of the game with seven minutes to play.
Dieterle tormented the Demon defense for fouls, but Engelhard's layup for two of her 20 game-high points with four minutes left pushed Bismarck to their biggest lead of the contest, 54-43, with four minutes to go.
Diegel determination willed Valley City back with Danica's offensive rebounds and Dierra's fast break command, but still the Demon lead was eight at 54-46 with two minutes left. Dierra Diegel converted a fast break of her own but Trolliey, who finished with 13 points, returned the favor right down the middle of the Hi-Liner defense when no Valley City defender stepped up to meet her. Bismarck held a 56-48 edge with a minute to play.
Olson answered Kiefer's fastbreak layup at the buzzer, but 60-50 was the final Bismarck advantage.
"They never quit," said Starr of his resilient squad. "If you've got a girl who takes the ball all the way to the basket with under 10 seconds to go, and she doesn't just stop at the halfcourt line and hand the ball to the official because she knows that even though she's not going to make the difference in the game, that fight, that will, that determination is going to stay there. That's a sign that not a lot of teams have. We're not complacent to go away quietly ... the sheer determination and the effort all the way to the end is what these girls can be proud of that they've done all season long."