23-point comeback earns Wahpeton first win

Caden Hockert (center) had the hot hand for Wahpeton in its first win of the season Thursday, Jan. 6. The Huskies junior made five threes in a 23-point comeback that left Valley City as the last winless team in the Eastern Dakota Conference. 

The Wahpeton boys basketball team (1-6) claimed its first win of the 2021-22 season at Valley City Thursday, Jan. 6. Wahpeton trailed by 23 at one point and headed to the locker room in a 43-25 halftime hole. The Huskies broke loose from their kennel in the second half with a 26-5 run that hounded the home team in a 72-67 Eastern Dakota Conference victory.

The Valley City play-by-play announcer chastised the Huskies’ excitement following the comeback win as players chest bumped and high-fived.

“Alright, that’s Wahpeton’s big win. They are excited like they won the state championship,” he said.

Can you blame them? Going up against supremely talented EDC foes and losing six straight probably felt like an eternity for Coach Jeff Ralph and his Huskies. No more, they’re on the board thanks to some strong backcourt play and a solid group effort in the post.

“What a comeback. Once we took the lead, it was in our control for the rest of the game,” Ralph said. “It was a good road win for these guys and hopefully an indication of what we can do when we score the basketball. Four guys in double-figures (scoring) is what we’ve been waiting for all season.”

Caden Hockert hasn’t had much space to get his shot up this season, but the lid came off Thursday for the junior shooting guard. Hockert was hot from behind the arc, hitting five of 10 triples, all in the second half, in a 22-point performance.

“Hockert banked one in to start, then he made four more,” Ralph said. “He found his spot and he was shooting it confidently. Once he sees that first one go in, then he kinda gets moving.”

Hockert’s backcourt mate, Caden Kappes, controlled the game at point guard with 11 points, six assists, six rebounds and two steals. Blake Schafer rounded out the guard crew with 14 points on five-of-10 shooting.

“Our guard play with Kappes, Hockert and Schafer was outstanding,” Ralph said. “Kappes had a huge bucket with the shot clock winding down when we were up by one. That put us back up by three and kind of sealed the deal. That was a huge basket down the stretch, just a point guard with a good head knowing what’s going on in that situation and getting into the lane.”

Manock made just four of 11 shots, but converted all four of his free throws and posted a workmanlike line of 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He was complemented by strong post play from Jackson Clooten (six points and six rebounds) and Jayden King (six points, four rebounds, one block). Clooten and King were a combined five of eight from the field as an efficient tandem in a game where every bucket mattered.

“I thought those three played well with 24 combined points. Jayden had two big buckets in the first half from the high post, which kind of stemmed the tide a little bit. Jackson had two buckets during our second-half run and that 12 points and eight rebounds from Ethan was pretty big.”

Wahpeton didn’t break a sweat at the charity stripe, sinking 15 of 19 free throws and 11 of 12 in the second half. Valley City was a non-factor from the line, making four of nine attempts. After getting outrebounded by an eye-popping margin of 57-17 vs. Grand Forks Red River, Wahpeton played evenly with Valley City pulling down 30 of 61 total rebounds.

The Valley City student section started chanting “this one’s over” late in the first half, but Wahpeton had other ideas, led by a supportive and engaged second unit. The Huskies began chipping away at an 18-point halftime deficit and seizing all the momentum.

“Our bench was a big part of it. We had some guys who didn’t play and they had such good bench energy, kids were engaged and I thought that was huge. Just pushing the kids in the game and giving them that energy,” Ralph said. “It’s been silent on the bench, and when you’re getting hammered, sometimes that happens. I really thought those kids got us going late in the first half and carried that over.”

Wahpeton turned the ball over 13 times to the Hi-Liners’ 15. The Huskies valued those chances and converted turnovers into 11 points, compared to a measly three for Valley City. Bench play was non-existent for Valley City, where they were outscored 19-9.

“We’re not a team that creates a lot of turnovers, but against the good teams, we have to convert those opportunities. Those extra possessions are so big. The kids did that last night,” Ralph said. “Valley was playing free and easy in the first half and making everything, then the whole script flipped on them.”

Wahpeton travels to Grand Forks Central at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8. Central (2-5) has wins vs. Devils Lake (2-5) and Valley City. The Huskies are licking their chops at a chance for their first win streak of the season.

“They’re a team we’re looking at in the bottom half of the EDC that we should compete with. They don’t have the 6’9” guys or the 6’3” guards that cause us trouble,” Ralph said. “I feel like we have good matchups. Looking at Ethan, Jayden and Jackson, if we can get 24 points and 18 rebounds out of that crew again, we will be just fine.”

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