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Stingy on 'D

With a little more than a minute left in the first quarter, Mackenzie Hughes intercepted a pass at the free-throw line and drove the length of the court for a layup.

With a little more than a minute left in the first quarter, Mackenzie Hughes intercepted a pass at the free-throw line and drove the length of the court for a layup.

That was the start of a 7-0 run, in which Hughes had steals that resulted in another fast-break layup and a free throw. That spurt opened a 15-5 lead and Thompson was never caught, rolling to a 51-25 win against Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page in the Region 2 girls high school basketball championship game.

"Getting those steals, then going down and scoring, those are pump-up moments,'' said sophomore Kaia Sorby, who scored a layup off another Hughes steal later in the game. "They get us going. One steal seems to lead to another and another.''

Defense is the spark for the Tommies, who take a 21-3 record into the Class B state tournament quarterfinals Thursday in Minot. The Tommies have a stingy 35.3 points-against average. They average more than 15 steals a game.

"People talk about how defense wins championships,'' Thompson coach Jason Brend said. "This team is all about defense. Any time you can hold teams below 40 points, you're going to win a lot of games.

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"We average 15 steals a game. Even if we score points on half of those steals, that's 14 points a game. When your team only averages 54 points like we do, those extra 14 points go a long way.''

Hughes leads the ballhawking, averaging 4.6 steals a game, followed by Sorby (3.3) and Taylor Zak (2.6).

"Our steals get us going,'' Hughes, a freshman, said. "We put a lot of pressure on the ball. We try to play lockdown defense and force (opponents) into throwing bad passes.

"They (steals) definitely get us fired up. If Kaia or I pick off a pass, we like to push it down court. I think we get into opponents' heads with our defense.''

That defense has consistently been stingy. In only 18 of its 24 games has Thompson allowed an opponent to reach the 40-point mark.

"Our defense starts on the perimeter,'' Brend said. "We are a little undersized in the post. But we're quick enough, and play physical enough, to create havoc in the lane.''

Success has come with a young, but veteran, lineup.

There were no seniors on last season's Region 2 runner-up team. There is only one senior this season, leading scorer Kailen Dolleslager (11.3 ppg). There was one setback when, in the season's sixth game, returning regular Allie Ivesdal was lost for the season with a knee injury.

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"That was a big loss,'' Brend said. "Allie is a fast, athletic kid, and she was one of our top shooters. But Sorby has done a great job stepping into her role.''

Thompson at a glance

• Record: 21-3, Region 2 champion.

• Coach: Jason Brend.

• State tournament opener: The Tommies play Langdon-Edmore-Munich at 1 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class B state tournament in Minot.

• Tommies starting lineup: 5-4 soph. G Kaia Sorby (6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 spg) 5-4 fr. G Mackenzie Hughes (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 4.6 spg), 5-9 soph. F Macy Jordheim (6.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.8 apg), 5-9 jr. F Taylor Zak (8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.6 spg), 5-9 sr. F Kailen Dolleslager (11.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

• Top reserves: 5-8 jr. Carrie Nistler (3.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 5-4 jr. Brittney Munson (5.7 ppg), 5-7 soph. Cayla Herbert (1.3 ppg).

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