Saying goodbye to great players at tournament time

New England's senior and junior starters sit on the beach as the clock winds down in their loss to Beulah in the Region 7 boys basketball tournament quarterfinals. It's a sight that's common yet brutal at tournament time, especially on the Monday of the region tournament, when batches of seniors -- many of whom have have had much to celebrate over the years -- watch their high school careers end.

Monday is the most heartbreaking day of any region high school basketball tournament in North Dakota.

It’s win-or-go-home day and almost every year, there are great players and teams who end up handing in their uniforms sooner than they wanted or expected.

After all, not all great careers can end in the limelight of a championship game. For some, like the boys from New England, Mott-Regent, Killdeer and Bowman County it ends on the first day of the tournament.

On Monday, those four teams and several of their standout players capped their careers with losses in the quarterfinals of the Region 7 tournament at Knights of Columbus Activities Center.

As a native of the New England and Regent area, it’ll going to be hard to forget the careers of the players that played for the Tigers and Wildfire the past few years.

New England’s senior trio of Clarence Binstock, Kaine Hanson and Nick Wolf, along with the emergence of senior Devin Plaggemeyer, made the team a delight to watch and a refreshing story since New England High School has the fourth smallest enrollment of boys in North Dakota.

Hanson became an unsuspecting standout, Binstock – a five-year starter and 1,000-point scorer – was one of the most fun-to-watch players the area has seen in a while due to his size, passing and 3-point shooting ability.

At Mott-Regent, we got to see Chad Mosbrucker and Nate Fries for three big years. While they never got to the big stage, they each ended their careers as 1,000-point scorers. Fries, hobbled by a leg injury sustained in the District 13 tournament, had to watch in agony as his team lost to Dickinson Trinity.

We’ll get to see more of Mosbrucker since he’s coming to Dickinson State to play football. Fries, Hanson and Wolf, while still undecided about their futures, are being pursued by the Blue Hawk men’s basketball team. Don’t be surprised if one, two or all three of them are wearing blue and gray next season.

One standout player, Beach center Landon Lechler, went out in the blaze of glory even earlier. He did everything he could, getting 36 points and 17 rebounds as Beach fell to Mott-Regent in a region-qualifier game of the District 13 tournament.

Don’t worry about Bowman County and Killdeer though. We’ll get to see a lot more of them next year. The Bulldogs return four starters and a couple of entertaining freshmen guards. The Cowboys, while losing senior Austyn Sadowsky, have a good young core returning next year.

While it’s tough to watch some of the area’s best players walk off the floor for the final time on the first day of the region tournament, it’s not the first time it has happened and it won’t be the last.

— In 2007, the South Heart Eagles played their final game in the quarterfinals, something that has happened to teams over the years before they headed into new co-ops.

— In 2008, Austin Dufault and Killdeer pushed eventual region champion Mott-Regent to overtime for the second consecutive season — only to watch their year end in defeat. Dufault, who went on win Mr. Basketball and is now a senior at Colorado, had 36 points in his final high school game, an enormous effort to save the Cowboys’ season and his career.

That same season, Beach knocked off seven-time defending region champion Dickinson Trinity in the opening round.

— In 2009, Hazen standout Chad Marshall had his illustrious career come to a close in the quarterfinals on a last-second shot by Brock Boos of Bowman County, which went on reach the state tournament.

Earlier that day, Richardton-Taylor had a batch of seniors, who a year earlier had helped lead their team to the region championship game, saw their careers end on the first day of the tournament.

The region tournament is a time for both jubilation and sadness. We’ll see plenty of it over next three days as a pair of rival, Heart River and Dickinson Trinity and Beulah and Hazen, face off tonight for trips to the championship game.

Tonight, someone’s career and hopes of a trip to the Class B state tournament will be cut short. For others, their dreams will be dashed Thursday. Only a chosen few get to celebrate, and that’s why they play the game.

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