The basketball rivalry between Ada-Borup and Ulen-Hitterdal has been growing ever since the 2005 traveling team season. Now, after Tuesday's game, it has just aggrandized even more.
After Ulen-Hitterdal eked out a two-point win in the season's first meeting, Ada-Borup leveled the series with a 61-47 win over the Spartans in Ada.
Two Ada-Borup (12-2) players who've remained prominent in the Cougars' lineup since their middle-school battles against Ulen-Hitterdal are Joel Merkens and Mitchell Ruebke, and they may have just played their career best game against the Spartans on Tuesday.
Ruebke provided Ada-Borup important minutes in the second half, where he scored 6 points in the paint within a two minute stretch. Ruebke finished with 10 points and he totaled 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Merkens set the tone from the get-go for Ada-Borup's offense; the 6 foot 5 inch senior forward utilized his brawn and smarts to realize if the Cougars struck first, it would lead to both a mental and physical advantage. Not only that, but his play would result in a double-double performance (14 points, 12 rebounds).
"We knew we needed to start out physically tough, knowing it would positively affect the rest of our game," Merkens said. "We had to set the tone with our physicality, and after getting pushed around in the first game against (Ulen-Hitterdal), it felt good to push back and get a win."
Ada-Borup succeeded in pushing Ulen-Hitterdal's top two scorers out of the game, restraining Neil Henrickson and Landon Schultz from any scoring uproars.
The Cougars defense clearly resembled the same strategy used in last season's sub-section championship game, where all defensive focus was tracking Henrickson and Schultz and their shooting abilities.
JD Kappes and Blake Fetting limited the two Spartans scorers from receiving open looks nearly the entire game, as their assignment was to face guard their designated man. No exceptions.
Still Henrickson, even while being tightly guarded, managed to drain 3 triples and finish with a game high 19 points.
"Ada-Borup did a very good job in stopping two of our best ball players," Ulen-Hitterdal coach Brett Maass said. "They had a plan to hinder our offense, and it worked. In upcoming games, others need to step up offensively and hit the shots that count."
Unlike Ulen-Hitterdal (14-3), Ada-Borup was able to count on its depth, as a handful of players hit decisive shots, especially Lance Ruebke who provided 14 points.
Ruebke was the Cougars' catalyst in the second half, as the ten points he scored aided in the 19-4 run Ada-Borup went on to loosen what was a 5 point game at halftime.
"We've been playing some of our best basketball in the last six games; our best basketball involves patience, physical play and a balanced offensive attack," Ada-Borup coach Trevor Stewart said. "We created scoring opportunities with our defense, and the guys made every possession count."
So with the season series split, it would only seem right should Ada-Borup and Ulen-Hitterdal meet again in the postseason to further intensify what began just as a weekend tournament rivalry.
"If we're destined to meet again, I'm definitely looking forward to it," Maass said. "It should be a good one."