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Panthers draw Huskies in state tourney first round

The number two seed Timber Lake Panthers will take on the number seven seed Bridgewater-Emery Huskies in the 6 p.m. game at the Class B State Boys Basketball Tournament at the Barnett Center in Aberdeen on Thursday.
The Panthers are making their second straight trip to state. They won the consolation title at last year’s state tournament.
Last year’s state tournament was just the second ever for the Panthers and the first since 1996. With all five starters returning, Panthers withstood the test of being the targeted team by reeling off a 15-2 regular season record and then cruised through two Region 8B games before taking down Wolsey-Wessington 61-48 in the SoDak 16 last Tuesday.
Coach Cody Lawrence, in his 13th year leading the Panthers, said his players have taken care of business so far this season.
“I felt as if we handled the pressure very well this year,” said Lawrence. “We played a strong schedule and we knew we would probably get everyone’s best shot. We had a week of sickness and injury that kind of shook us, but overall, the players have done a great job of handling expectations.”
In fact, the only bump in the road came in mid-January. The Panthers won their first eight games, including road wins over Class A Mobridge-Pollock and Winner. Then came back-to-back losses to fellow state tournament attendees Sully Buttes and Clark/Willow Lake. Both losses were road games. The Panthers recovered to win their last seven regular season games, which has them heading to state on a 10-game winning streak.
The Panthers’ veteran-laden team starts four seniors and one junior. Brayden Pay Pay, 6’0” senior guard, leads the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game, while adding three rebounds, three steals and two assists. Tucker Kraft, 6’5” senior forward, delivers 14.1 points and eight rebounds an outing. Isaac Kraft, 5’11” junior guard, scores 10.7 points, and adds four rebounds, four steals and three assists per game. Jackson Harrison, 5’10” senior guard, brings 7.8 points, three rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.5 assists a night. Trey Bollinger, 6’0” senior guard, scored 5.1 points and adds four rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 assists. Top off the bench is Taylor Goldade, 6’0” junior, with 2.5 points and 2.5 assists an outing.
Bridgewater-Emery brings a 19-4 record to the state tourney. The Huskies took third in state last year after winning the title in 2016. After a 16-4 regular season, the Huskies won two lopsided games in Region 5B and then beat Colome 58-45 in the SoDak 16.
The Huskies have just three seniors on the roster, but all three start. Sawyer Schultz, 6’3” senior guard, leads the team with 23 points and 9.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Carter Dye, 6’4” senior forward, gets 14 points and 8.4 rebounds an outing. Jamin Arend, 6’0” senior guard, scores 13 points, grabbed 5.5 boards and dishes 4.3 assists. Chase Arend, 5’11” junior guard, averages 10 points and 4.5 rebounds and leads the team with 3.5 steals per game. Jonah Hofer, 5’11” junior guard adds six points and three rebounds. Rylee Schultz, 6’3 sophomore forward, is tops off the bench with two points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
Lawrence knows Bridgewater-Emery is a tough draw, but in a tournament where the eighth seed has a 21-2 record, there is no such thing as an easy draw.
“As far at the state tournament, I feel you are looking at eight teams that could win a state championship,” said Lawrence. “Everyone still playing is very good and it will be a matter of who can get a few bounces to go their way and who happens to be playing better that night.”
One key to the Panthers’ success will be their ability to be a better team than they were the last time they were on the court. Getting better every night is a mantra that all coaches teach and hope for. If the SoDak 16 win is any indication, the Panthers are a team that may have its best games yet to come. In the win over Wolsey-Wessington, Pay Pay was cold from the field, but others, including Isaac Kraft and his 15 second-half points, picked up the slack and the Panthers pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 13-point win.
Lawrence said playing as a team and simply being a team is key to the Panthers’ success.
“This group of players has become more than a team,” said Lawrence. “In fact, they refer to each other as family, and as a family you have each other’s back. So, the days that we have someone struggle, we know that others will pick up the slack for one another.”