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Dakota Valley holds on for thrilling state quarterfinal victory over Winner
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Dakota Valley holds on for thrilling state quarterfinal victory over Winner

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Relief. 

That was the word head coach Jason Kleis used to describe his state of mind on Thursday night after Dakota Valley’s 65-58 win over Winner in Sioux Falls, S.D at the Class A state quarterfinals. 

Talk about a roller-coaster. This one was wild. 

After dominating the first half, Dakota Valley nearly saw its victory slip away in the fourth quarter.  At halftime, the Panthers led Winner, 36-18, thanks to a 25-0 scoring run from Dakota Valley in the first and second quarter. 

The Panthers outscored the Warriors 16-14 in the first quarter, and 20-4 in the second, as the team shot 50 percent from the field, and sophomore Isaac Bruns led the way with 17 first-half points. Dakota Valley also out-rebounded Winner in the first half, 22-14, while forcing five turnovers. 

“We were just guarding them pretty well, they were missing some shots,” Kleis said. “We get stops, if we get in transition we’re really good. Then we went away from the script and got lazy and I thought a little bit complacent offensively, taking some dumb shots when we shouldn’t have been.”

In the third quarter, Winner finally showed signs of life, outscoring Dakota Valley, 20-12, to pull within 10 points at 48-38. In the fourth, Winner scored 20 points again, and pulled within one point of Dakota Valley with less than a minute remaining in the game. 

Panthers senior Paul Bruns scored a crucial bucket to put the Panthers up by three. With 17.3 seconds left in the game, sophomore Randy Rosenquist forced a turnover to give Dakota Valley the ball. After that, the Panthers scored the final four points of the game to get to 65 points, and secure the heart-attack victory. 

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Isaac Bruns finished with a team-high 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting, with three 3-pointers. Paul Bruns had a double-double, with 22 points and 21 rebounds. 

“They did what they always do,” Kleis said of the Bruns brothers. “They score, and I thought that they didn't stick to the script enough of being patient in the second half, which was frustrating, but that was all of our guys. Paul and Isaac are great players. They know what they are doing and they know how to score.” 

On the other side, Brady Fritz led the way for Winner with 28 points on 10-of-28 shooting, with six 3-pointers in the game. The Warriors nearly erased an 18-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Panthers in the second half, 40-29. 

In the end though, Dakota Valley managed to hold onto the win by its fingernails. The Panthers finished the game with 39 total rebounds compared to 29 for Winner. The Dakota Valley offense converted 48 percent of its shots for the game, while Winner shot 39 percent from the field. 

The win puts the Panthers just two wins away from clinching the program's first ever state title. 

Following the 53-52 loss by No. 1 seed Vermillion to No. 8 Dell Rapids earlier on Thursday, Dakota Valley is the highest remaining seed in the tournament. 

The Panthers will play in the Class A semifinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m., against the winner of Thursday’s game between Sioux Valley and Chamberlain.

That game finished after the Journal went to press. 

While Dakota Valley came away with the win, Kleis made it clear that he expects better from his team on Friday against either the Cossacks or the Cubs. The Panthers cannot afford to give up another 18-point lead. 

“If that happens tomorrow, we are going to be in trouble,” Kleis said. “We relaxed and didn’t do things right or finish the way we needed to. We’re fortunate to survive.”

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