Cossacks advance to Class A championship game

Sioux Valley players and fans celebrate in the final seconds of the Cossacks' 54-46 win over St. Thomas More in the semifinals of the South Dakota Class A Boys' Basketball State Tournament in Summit Arena at The Monument in Rapid City. Aaron Jorenby / The Register

RAPID CITY – The Sioux Valley Cossacks are back in the Class A boys’ basketball state championship game.

The sixth-seeded Cossacks had to withstand a second half flurry from the second-seeded St. Thomas More Cavaliers but when the final horn sounded it signified a second-straight berth in the championship game for coach Bill Vincent and his Cossacks who claimed a 54-46 victory and find themselves one win away from a state title.

It wasn’t without a fair share of tense moments.

Parker Puetz was whistled for his third foul with a half-second left in the first quarter and Hayden Ruesink already had two fouls at that point. Puetz still played nearly 25 minutes before fouling out with just under two minutes left. Oliver Vincent played every second of the game before fouling out just two seconds prior to Puetz picking up his fifth foul. Ruesink logged nearly 29 minutes. If there was an exam in foul-trouble management, the Cossacks aced it.

“We had to work through foul trouble again tonight,” Bill Vincent said. “We rode it a bit more tonight and ended up closing with some bench players on the floor, but we can’t speak enough of those guys and them being ready for that moment.”

Early on it felt like fouls wouldn’t be an issue with the score showing what it did. Sioux Valley again came out on fire in the first half by making 11-of-18 shots from the field including a blistering 7-of-12 from deep and led 30-16 at halftime.

Ruesink was 5-5 overall at that point and made all three his shots from deep.

“We’ve been coming out of the gates well and our confidence has been growing as the postseason has gone on,” Bill Vincent said.

However, the third quarter nearly saw the game slip away as the 14-point lead was just five after three quarters, a 36-31 Cossacks’ edge.

An Oliver Vincent triple upped the lead to eight in the early stages of the fourth quarter and a great feed from Damian Danzeisen to Alec Squires for an emphatic flush put Sioux Valley up nine with two minutes left.

That lead wasn’t safe, however, as the two things that were a negative for the Cossacks on Friday night – free throw shooting and giving up offensive rebounds – nearly led to them letting that lead slip away.

With the lead at six the Cossacks missed a pair of free throws; the Cavaliers made two on their end and cut the lead to four. Sioux Valley missed a third straight before finally making one, then again went one-of-two and the lead was six.

STM’s Caleb Hollenbeck cut it in half with his third triple of the game.

However, when it counted most the Cossacks clutched up and buried five straight free throws which, coupled with misses on desperation shots from the Cavaliers, was enough to finally secure a Sioux Valley win.

Friday night’s second semifinal easily could’ve went one way or another had one team found consistent success at the stripe – Sioux Valley and St. Thomas More were a combined 20-41 at the line. Thankfully for the Cossacks, their struggles were matched by their opponents. And Sioux Valley made them when they needed them most.

“We hit enough back-ends of free throws to keep us in there,” Bill Vincent said.

Ruesink finished with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting; he also had six rebounds.

Squires ripped down 15 rebounds to go with six points, while Oliver Vincent scored 12 and had five assists before exiting.

Danzeisen added nine and three dimes and Puetz’s two treys netted him six.

Hollenbeck finished with 19 for the Cavaliers, along with six rebounds. Cade Kandolin added 13.

Sioux Valley attempted just 30 shots the entire game, making 17. They finished 9-of-19 from long range. The Cossacks also committed 17 turnovers.

St. Thomas More was 16-of-58 overall and only 5-of-24 from deep. The Cavaliers pulled down 18 offensive rebounds to just three for Sioux Valley, but STM couldn’t capitalize on the multitude of second chances.

Despite surviving a near-second half disaster the phrase “survive and advance” isn’t in the Cossacks’ vocabulary according to their head coach.

“People say survive and advance; we say strive and advance,” Bill Vincent said. “We feel our best game is still ahead of us and that the best version of us is yet to come.”

That best game will need to come Saturday night in the Class A championship against Dakota Valley. The undefeated Panthers will be looking to cap a perfect season going up against a Sioux Valley team with their own sense of motivation.

“This is a motivator to be back in the championship again,” Bill Vincent said. “The Covid year where we felt we maybe got shorted out of a championship team that was 22-1 and didn’t get to go and represent, and then last year we got to the title game and didn’t have enough left in the tank, so we’re definitely happy to be back in the championship again.”

The Cossacks (20-5) and Panthers (25-0) play for all the marbles Saturday night at 7:45 p.m. Mountain time.

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