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RYAN BAKKEN: Hot shot gets top slot

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As rural North Dakota shrinks in population, so too do the crowds at the North Dakota Class B Boys Basketball Tournament, being played this week in Grand Forks.

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Thursday evening’s action was an exception, however, as millions of people watched the tournament. To be more precise, millions watched a few seconds of the tournament.

Those few seconds were an epic few seconds, however. The video was of New Town guard Joe Baker’s 60-foot shot that bounced off the backboard and through the hoop, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that should have been awarded nine points given the distance.

The clip of the senior’s shot was on ESPN’s Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays of the Day on Thursday. In fact, it was selected as the No. 1 play of the day. That designation, for those of you who watch more PBS than ESPN, is the Holy Grail of sports, whether you live in western North Dakota or New York City.

“I had heard that (WDAZ, Channel 8) had submitted the video to ESPN, but we didn’t know if it was selected for the Top 10,” Baker said Friday. “When we watched, it didn’t show up on the first few top plays announced, so I figured it didn’t make it. I was surprised it made it at all, much less No. 1, being we’re small town North Dakota.”

Baker may not be Marilyn Hagerty when it comes to going viral, but his profile has grown. He estimates that he received responses from 150 to 200 people — many of them total strangers — via social networking in the first 12 hours of his ESPN debut.

Amy Baker was excited to see her son in a national spotlight. But she said she was happier about how the shot brought attention to the entire team after the overtime defeat at the hands of No. 1-seeded Rugby.

“After a crushing loss, it was a nice bonus,” Amy Baker said. “The ESPN video showed Joe’s shot, but it also showed his teammates celebrating the shot, too. So, they also got attention.

“If we couldn’t get the win, we at least got something.”

As a Herald employee/UND hockey fan pointed out, North Dakota not only had the No. 1 play of the day, but also No. 2. The second-ranked ESPN play was a goal scored by the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews, a former UND hockey player who wore the green-and-white last in 2007.

In the big picture, Baker won’t match Toews for sports notoriety. But for one night, a North Dakota Class B town was in the spotlight, proving that anyone can have his dream fulfilled.

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