Napoleon ready for Region 3The Napoleon Imperials made a statement with their 78-73 double-overtime victory over Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock last Saturday in the championship game of the District 6 Boys’ Basketball Tournament in Wishek. First and foremost, it was the team’s first district title in two decades. But it also cemented the Imperials as a bona fide contender for the Region 3 tournament crown, which gets underway today at 3 p.m. inside the Jamestown Civic Center.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The Napoleon Imperials made a statement with their 78-73 double-overtime victory over Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock last Saturday in the championship game of the District 6 Boys’ Basketball Tournament in Wishek.
First and foremost, it was the team’s first district title in two decades. But it also cemented the Imperials as a bona fide contender for the Region 3 tournament crown, which gets underway today at 3 p.m. inside the Jamestown Civic Center.
“We haven’t won the district since ’92,” Napoleon head coach Caleb Ketterling said. “That’s 20 years coming for us. It was pretty crazy.”
Napoleon has been on the rise since Ketterling took over the program four years ago. The team went 7-13 in his first year at the helm back in 2009, but since then the Imperials have went 49-21 and have posted back-to-back third-place finishes in the Region 3 tourney.
The team’s victory over Linton-HMB snapped the Lions’ and head coach Dan Carr’s (621 career victories) three-straight district titles dating back to the 2008-09 season.
The game was tied at 55-55 at the end of regulation, and a three-quarter court three-pointer by Napoleon’s Jonah Schwartzenberger was waved off in the closing seconds of the first OT because of an Imperial timeout, extending the game to overtime No. 2 at 73-73.
But Napoleon clamped down defensively and wouldn’t allow another point to the Lions, even as the Imperials’ 6-foot-4 senior Wade Rath-Wald sat on the bench with five fouls. Rath-Wald exited early, having amassed 32 points and 15 rebounds.
Schwartzenberger also had a big night, pumping in 26 and dishing out seven assists.
“They had their chances to win, and we had our chances to win. It was pretty stupid how the game ended up,” Ketterling said. “Wade fouled out with two minutes left in the first overtime, and from there we are 5-10 and shorter. We were undersized for six minutes and somehow pulled it out.”
Napoleon (17-4) is currently riding a nine-game winning streak and has won 14 of their last 15 contests. The team’s last loss was a 61-55 hiccup to Linton-HMB in Napoleon way back on Jan. 10.
Rath-Wald and Schwartzenberger have been the team’s heart and soul all season, as both cleared 1,000 career points in back-to-back games earlier in the year. Rath-Wald is currently sitting on 1,111 career points, while Schwartzenberger has accounted for 1,076 career markers.
Both are averaging around 16 points per game, while Rath-Wald is averaging 13 boards and three blocks per contest and Schwartzenberger is averaging five assists and three steals.
“They are definitely carrying the load. They are on a mission, and teams are going to be trying to make game plans against them and our role players will need to step up and show what they can do in crunch time,” Ketterling said. “Wade has been on an absolute tear the last 10 games and Jonah has been solid all year. They are two big leaders and two tough people to stop.”
Rounding out the team’s starting five is juniors Grant Weigel (10 ppg) and Dylan A. Bitz, and sophomore Trent Fettig.
“I can’t say enough about those role players,” Ketterling said. “Definitely in the district championship they all stepped up and it’s been pretty impressive to see those five come together.”
Napoleon will open the Region 3 tournament against Central Prairie (11-11) in the third quarterfinal game of the day. The Imperials defeated the Firebirds 65-57 in Medina on Jan. 7, but Central Prairie has their own 1,000-point career scorer in the likes of senior Eric Knodel.
Knodel currently has 1,012 career points
“I don’t think you can shut a kid like Knodel down, you just have to make his touches and his shots as difficult as you can,” Ketterling said. “They are pretty physical from when we played them last time. Rebounding will be a huge factor, and it will be throughout the tournament for us.”
The Firebirds finished the regular season red hot, winning their final six straight games before being upset by Pingree-Buchanan-Kensal 51-49 in the opening round of the District 5 tourney.
“From there, it just comes down to the little things,” Ketterling said. “Making sure we are taking good shots and not turning the ball over, and playing solid defense.”
The tournament kicks off with No. 3-ranked LaMoure (21-0) facing South Border (12-10) and Linton-HMB (14-7) squaring off against P-B-K (4-18). In the nightcap, Edgeley-Kulm (16-6) will take on Strasburg-Zeeland (11-11).
“If you look up and down the line, it’s pretty balanced and there’s bound to be some upsets if you take a team too lightly,” Ketterling said of this week’s tournament. “We just have to make sure the kids are prepared and they come out like it’s their last game, because anything can happen.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com