If there's anything veteran Carrington girls basketball coach Andy Braaten has gathered in six seasons of Region 3 competition, it's this:
Toss records, rankings and winning streaks out the window come playoff time.
The Class B postseason has arrived and No. 7-ranked Carrington is carrying an 11-game winning streak and the No. 1 seed into the District 5 tournament beginning today (Friday) at the Jamestown Civic Center. Since moving south from Region 4, the Cardinals have advanced to the District 5 title game in each of the past five seasons -- winning three of them -- but advancing out of the regional tournament has been an entirely different story.
Carrington has qualified for the state tournament just once (2016) over the same amount of time, dropping Region 3 title games to LaMoure/Litchville-Marion (2015), Edgeley/Kulm/Montpelier (2017) and Medina/Pingree-Buchanan (2018), before last season's postseason run ended in the region semifinals to then No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Kidder County.
The moral of the story here is pretty clear.
"Nothing's ever easy," Bratten said. "There seems to be five, six quality teams every regional that can make some noise. We're glad to be part of the equation, but it's a challenge every year."
Carrington (17-2) will mount its charge Saturday playing the winner of today's 4:30 p.m. quarterfinal between EKM and Midkota. Today's remaining matchups include LLM vs. Ellendale at 6 and Oakes vs. Barnes County North at 7:30.
Another battle-tested Carrington squad has quality wins over No. 9 Rugby and No. 10 Thompson, while also securing victories over LLM and Central Cass, teams receiving votes in this week's Class B girls basketball statewide media poll. But not near as obvious is Carrington's pair of victories over a scrappy, 14-win MPB team.
The Thunder (14-5) have won nine of their last 10 and earned the No. 2 seed for the District 6 tournament, which got underway Thursday in Napoleon. MPB is led by senior standout Megan Moser and head coach Corey Mack, who after four years away is back at the helm of the Thunder.
Carrington staved off MPB, who has wins over LLM (14-5) and Linton/HMB (13-6), by seven points at home on Jan. 7. It was similar to last year's Region 3 quarterfinal won 44-41 by the Cards over the Thunder.
"Great leader, and all those kids kind of fill their roles really nice," Braaten said of Moser and the Thunder. "You talk about experience, Megan has played in some big games volleyball and basketball-wise, and the younger kids are quality athletes. It didn't surprise me."
Carrington's two losses have come while facing some of the state's best competition. The Cards fell by seven to No. 2 Langdon/Edmore/Munich on Jan. 2, while No. 6 Four Winds/Minnewaukan was 10 points better than Carrington on Jan. 4. Both losses came on the road.
"Four Winds got us right away. They came out and shot really well, so it just kinda told us that, hey, we've got to we ready from the tip," Braaten said. "And, Langdon kinda told us we gotta finish 32 minutes. It was a one-point game in the fourth quarter and then they hit a couple big shots in the last three minutes. So it was kinda both ends of the spectrum there."
The Cards have since been rolling, working around injuries and most recently taking down Thompson (15-4) by six points on the road earlier this week. Guards Addison Hoornaert and Tessa Page were both sidelined against the Tommies. Hoornaert, a senior averaging 9.5 points 3.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game, has missed Carrington's last four contests but will be in uniform Saturday.
Braaten dressed eight players in Thompson on Monday, running out a starting five of Kiera Eli (15.7 ppg, 68 3-pointers), Hannah Hagel (13.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Marah Schmitz (6.1 ppg), Lexi Page (4.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Sydnie Grager (6.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg). Hagel, a 5-foot-10 junior, and Grager, a 5-11 sophomore, have helped to offset the absence of forward Bella Hone, who lost her senior season to a knee injury.
"Our post game is pretty steady," Braaten said. "Hannah's done a real nice job inside and outside. She plays a little bit more perimeter action, and that allows Sydnie to come in and roam in the interior a little bit more for us."
Both victories over Thompson and Rugby (17-2) were won in the second half by limiting turnovers and hitting shots, which are two things that will need to continue for Carrington. Because, as the Cards have learned, nobody will care about what happened in January beginning this weekend.
"I think we're a confident bunch, but we know that there's a lot of good teams down there," Braaten said. "Everybody's fired up for the last couple games. You win or go home and that seems to be plenty of motivation."
Girls Basketball District Tournaments
At Jamestown Civic Center
G1: Edgeley/KM (9-10) vs. Midkota (7-12), 4:30 p.m.
G2: LaMoure/LM (14-5) vs. Ellendale (5-14), 6 p.m.
G3: Oakes (14-5) vs. Barnes Co. North (2-16), 7:30 p.m.
G4: Loser G2 vs. Loser G3, 4:30 p.m.
G5: Carrington (17-2) vs. Winner G1, 6 p.m.
G6: Winner G2 vs. Winner G3, 7:30 p.m.
Region 3 qualifier: Loser G1 vs. Loser G6, 4:30 p.m.
Region 3 qualifier: Winner G4 vs. Loser G5, 6 p.m.
Championship: Winner G5 vs. Winner G6, 7:30 p.m.