'Kicked in the mouth,' Dakota Valley responds for 52nd win in a row to advance to Class A title game

Mar. 18—SIOUX FALLS — In the words of their star player, the Dakota Valley boys basketball powerhouse got "kicked in the mouth" on Friday night.

The upstart Hamlin Chargers were doing the punching, leading 39-30 at halftime, playing as the aggressor in the Class A state semifinals.

That didn't last into the second half.

With a little "bullyball," as Hamlin coach Todd Neuendorf called it, Dakota Valley won the battles inside and outside in the second half, scored the first 19 points of the third period and pulled away for a 77-63 win at the Premier Center.

It is now 52 wins in a row for the Panthers (25-0), who look for a second consecutive perfect season on Saturday night in the Class A title game against Sioux Falls Christian.

"They kicked us in the mouth in the first half," said Bruns, a University of South Dakota commit. "But the talk at halftime was that we just needed to play harder if we were going to win the game."

Play harder? The Panthers did that, posting a 7-0 run before Hamlin used a timeout and then continued on with 12 more points before the Chargers could muster an answer.

"We just tried to challenge our guys to be aggressor. We were not the aggressor in the first half," DV coach Jason Kleis said. "And give Hamlin all the credit because they hit the threes, and they were quicker, stronger, faster. And then you throw in a little bit of pressure in winning 51 games in a row. ... But the way our guys responded, it was a pretty awesome second half."

The Panthers' big three had their hand in the victory. Bruns had 27 points and 12 rebounds on a perfect 11-for-11 free-throw shooting day. Randy Rosenquist had 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting, plus nine assists, and Jaxson Wingert had 18 points.

It was Wingert's role that was among the most interesting. He had only two points in the first half on 0-for-3 shooting. By night's end, the 6-foot-7 Wingert had six field goals, 18 points and seven rebounds, with the Panthers making a concerted effort to get him involved early in the third quarter.

"I thought we had Dakota Valley reeling a little bit and we got to them early in the game. And then they came out in the second half, and I think it was evident by the first play they ran, they just decided they were going to play bullyball and be physical on both ends of the court. And it took my guys too long to adjust to that. We were a little shell-shocked by their physicality in the second half. ... It took us too long to adjust to that."

If the Chargers had upset dreams, they were on the right path in the first half, draining nine 3-pointers, including four from Tyson Stevenson. The top-seeded Panthers shot only four 3-point attempts and were kept to 43.5% shooting in the first half.

"We knew Hamlin was all shooters," Bruns said. "They have a great group of guys and they definitely lit it up in the first half. We knew that this was our game to win and if we played our game, we would win the game."