REGION 2 BOYS BASKETBALL: Griggs County Central looks to prove maturity at regional

The narrow setbacks were getting to Bill Engel a few seasons ago. Griggs County Central finished the 2009-10 boys high school basketball season with a 3-18 record. But the Cougars weren't far from the break-even point -- seven of those losses wer...

The narrow setbacks were getting to Bill Engel a few seasons ago.

Griggs County Central finished the 2009-10 boys high school basketball season with a 3-18 record. But the Cougars weren't far from the break-even point -- seven of those losses were by less than 10 points.

"It was frustrating," Engel, the Griggs County Central coach, said. "We definitely felt we were better than our record showed. We felt we were doing a lot of good things. But it seemed like we couldn't close things off down the stretch. We lost a lot of close games that year."

Since then, the Cougars have figured out a winning formula.

Last season's team reached .500 at 11-11 and earned a berth in the Region 2 tournament for the first time since the 2000-01 season. The Cougars are going back to the regional, which begins Monday with quarterfinals at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks. And, at 17-5, Griggs County Central has a record bettered only by Hatton-Northwood (18-4) and Grafton (19-2) in the eight-team field.


The foundation for success was laid in that 3-18 season.

The Cougars have the top 1-2 scoring punch in the region in senior guard Billy Engel (20.1 ppg) and 6-foot-3 junior center Kris Wathne (18.3 ppg). Engel gives the Cougars a guard who can score from long range or off the dribble. Wathne is a post player who scores with a variety of moves around the basket. Both were regulars on the 2009-10 team.

"They were definitely holding their own that (3-18) year," said Bill Engel, whose team plays Cavalier in a quarterfinal game at approximately 4:30 p.m. Monday. "Sometimes the physicality of the game, being young and going against older kids, was wearing on them. But they had the skills to succeed. It was developing the physical maturity.

"Sometimes kids have the talent, but they get used to losing. But Billy and Kris didn't want to settle for that. And there were other kids their ages who had skills. We knew they had potential."

Last year, Engel said, the close games were going the Cougars' direction more frequently than in the past. The key game might have been the loser-out region qualifier in the District 3 tournament. Griggs County Central, down 46-36 after three quarters, rallied to an 81-77 win in double overtime against Larimore.

"Getting to the regional last year was the big thing," Bill Engel said. "We were in a double overtime game. We had to get huge games from several guys. And they did it. I think that gave our kids a huge amount of confidence coming into this season.

"It was definitely more difficult getting from 3-18 to .500 than it was going from last year to where we are now. The kids had to learn how to win. This year, I think our kids expected to succeed. They knew they could make this jump after last year."

Griggs County Central doesn't go into the regional as a favorite. Grafton is defending region champion. Hatton-Northwood finished third in the regional last season. Both teams have several key players back from those squads.


"Hatton-Northwood and Grafton are the teams people will pick to be at the top because of their athleticism and their depth," Engel said. "But I think there are several good teams out there, who are capable of beating them."

The tournament continues Tuesday with the semifinals, with the championship and third-place games schedule for Thursday.

In Region 4 in Devils Lake, the same schedule will be followed -- quarterfinals today, beginning at 3 p.m., with semifinals Tuesday night and finals Thursday.

In other area games to watch this week as tournaments kick into high gear:

Girls basketball

North Dakota district tournaments get into full swing, with quarterfinals Friday and second-day play Saturday. The tournaments conclude a week from today, with the top four finishers advancing to region tournaments.

• District 3, at Mayville State: Defending champion Central Valley takes the No. 1 seed into the tournament.

• District 4, at Park River: Top-seeded Grafton will bid for a repeat title.


• District 7, at Four Winds High School: Defending Class B state champion Carrington begins the postseason by taking the No. 1 seed into the tournament.

• District 8, in Cando: North Star wound up with the top seed on a tiebreaker after the Bearcats, Benson County and Rolla-Rock Lake tied for the regular-season title.

Girls hockey

• Minnesota Class A state tournament: Section 8A champion Warroad kicks off the Class A state tournament when the second-seeded Warriors meet Detroit Lakes at 11 a.m.

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send email to .

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