MALTA -- Fairfield and Shelby punched tickets to the State B tournament with semifinal wins on Friday night at the Northern B boys divisional basketball tournament in Malta. Fairfield won a thriller over Harlem, while Shelby built an early double-digit lead and held off Wolf Point down the stretch.
Fairfield 68, Harlem 66
Keeley Bake certainly redeemed himself from a poor offensive performance on Thursday night.
After scoring just nine points on 2-of-12 shooting in the first round, the Fairfield senior and Montana Tech commit was relentless in the semifinals, pouring in 33 points on Friday night to help the Eagles top Harlem 68-66 and clinch a berth at the State B tournament.
“Had to get an easy bucket, absolutely. I had to get the confidence up and get back to normal a little bit,” Bake said
“(Thursday) his shot just wasn’t falling, but he’s a gamer,” Fairfield head coach Jordan Ratliff said. “Every night he goes out and tries his best, gives 100 percent. I was just glad his shot was falling (Friday). … Just some momentum going our way. He was aggressive going to the hoop and getting easy buckets.”
Possibly the biggest bucket of the night for Bake came with three minutes to play and the game knotted at 59-all. Bake drilled a 3-pointer from four feet behind the arc to give the Eagles a three-point lead. Fairfield eventually led 66-60, but Harlem mounted a comeback in the final minutes.
As Fairfield slowed its offense, the Harlem defense picked up the pressure. The Wildcats forced consecutive turnovers leading to layups to cut the deficit to two, 66-64, with less than a minute to play.
Bake would sink one of two free throws with less than 40 ticks left to give Fairfield another three-point lead. Harlem’s ensuing offensive possession came up empty, as Fairfield sealed the game at the foul line.
Harlem led by as many as six in the first quarter, but Fairfield would wind up carrying a three-point lead into halftime. The Eagles opened up an eight-point lead, 53-45, midway through the third quarter, but a 3 by Daniel Lawrence ignited a 7-0 Harlem run to close the quarter and make it a one-point game entering the final period.
After back-to-back years losing in heartbreaking fashion in the semifinals at the divisional tournament, Fairfield will return to the state tournament.
“It feels unreal,” Bake said. “This is an unbelievable feeling. It’s great.”
“I’m just so happy for these boys. There’s been times these last couple years we’ve been in this same Friday night game and lost on a last-second shot,” Ratliff said. “Compliments to them. They’ve worked their butts off all season long and they’ve bought in to everything we’ve coached. It was a great win for those guys.”
Bake had seven rebounds to go with his game-high 33 points. Brad Cichosz poured in 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Harlem.
Fairfield will play Shelby on Saturday night in the Northern B divisional title game.
Shelby 63, Wolf Point 48
Shelby will join Fairfield in the Northern B title game, as the Coyotes built a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and held off Wolf Point for a 63-48 win.
Shelby grabbed an 20-11 lead after the first quarter and the Coyotes quickly pushed it to double figures. Shelby would lead 33-22 at the halftime break. Even late in the game when Shelby grabbed a 16-point lead, it never felt safe enough.
"I don't think until that final buzzer," Shelby head coach Tom Reynolds said with a laugh. "I've got a very young crew out there. I just told them, 'We're growing every day, we're getting better.' It really never did feel comfortable. I've been in enough of these situations, you just never know until that final horn."
Wolf Point began to cut into Shelby's lead early in the fourth quarter, cutting it to single digits at one point, forcing Reynolds to call a timeout. He told his team it was a mental check, and the Coyotes responded.
"It's been an issue for a while, but they sucked it up and got going. I was proud of them," Reynolds said.
Shelby routinely broke the Wolf Point press in the fourth quarter and converted easy baskets on the other end, making the Wolves pay for sending guys flying at the ball.
"You bet you (want to make them pay)," Reynolds said. "Anytime you get somebody out of a press, you attack it. That's for sure. They did a good job of that (Friday)."
Sophomore Rhett Reynolds had a monster game for Shelby, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He was 9 of 13 from the free throw line. Senior Tanner Parsons had an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Coyotes. Lance St. Germaine had a game-high 23 points for Wolf Point.
The Coyotes will meet Fairfield in the Northern B divisional title game on Saturday night. Fairfield beat Shelby twice during the regular season and in the District 1B title game.
"Keeley Bake. He's a very special player and just a great kid," Reynolds said of slowing down Fairfield. "We've got to get where we know where he's at all the time."