ST. JOSEPH — Drew Reifsteck stayed calm.
Up until the Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior standout clutched the Class 2A St. Joseph-Ogden Regional plaque in his hands and turned to his teammates a few steps away.
Then, he let out a primal scream, hoisting the plaque in the air amid a cacophony of noise after the Blue Devils finished off the host Spartans 38-28 on Friday night to win the program’s first regional championship since 2017.
“It’s beautiful, man,” Reifsteck said. “Unexplainable.”
Let’s explain, though, how BHRA (32-0) kept its undefeated season intact, overcame a halftime deficit in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,500 spectators and advanced to Tuesday’s Pontiac Sectional semifinal game at 7 p.m. against Coal City (20-11).
It starts — and ends — with Reifsteck. The point guard and unquestioned leader of the Blue Devils poured in a game-high 21 points on a variety of drives, pull-up jumpers and a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter that gave BHRA a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. He also added four rebounds, four steals and three assists while dealing with four fouls for much of the fourth quarter.
“Reifsteck’s a tough player,” SJ-O coach Kiel Duval said. “He’s just so good. He’s very hard to guard. He changes directions well. He’s so strong and physical in the lane. He finishes through contact. You just don’t see guards that can do that, and then he hits that big shot at the end of the third quarter. That’s a tough one. I thought we did such a good job defensively until that last three seconds. He just gets a little bit of space and makes it. Credit to him.”
SJ-O (23-9) enjoyed a 19-14 halftime lead thanks to the duo of freshman forward Ty Pence and senior guard Chance Izard, with Pence contributing 10 of his team-high 14 points through the first two quarters. Izard finished with 11 points and nine happened in the first half. The pair combined to make five three-pointers before halftime, but didn’t connect from beyond the arc after halftime.
“They were moving well without the basketball, which helped get them open shots,” Duval said. “Our guys got it to them in good position, and they were shooting it with confidence. We hoped that would carry over to the second half, but they ran out of gas, and the shots came up short.”
BHRA’s zone defense affected the Spartans in the second half. SJO committed 14 turnovers on the night and never seemed to get a good look after halftime.
“We did a better job in the second half of taking away the middle catch, which we didn’t do in the first half, and we were able to close out on their shooters,” BHRA coach Gary Tidwell said. “That’s the primary reason.”
SJ-O senior guard Payton Grimsley converted a traditional three-point play with 1:44 remaining in the third quarter to give the Spartans a 24-22 lead. But then Reifsteck and pals took control, starting with Reifsteck’s fadeaway three-pointer from the left corner just before the third-quarter buzzer sounded to put BHRA out in front 25-24.
“He’s just an outstanding player,” Tidwell said. “He has unbelievable heart, a great basketball IQ and lives for moments like this.”
More moments featuring Reifsteck making winning plays transpired in the fourth quarter. It was a steal and subsequent fast-break layup by Reifsteck that put the Blue Devils ahead 29-24 with 4:50 left, prompting Duval to call a timeout and try to settle down the Spartans.
No such luck. Reifsteck delivered again two minutes later, hitting senior forward Kaj Stanford on the left block while SJ-O double-teamed Reifsteck near the right wing. Stanford converted the easy layup made possible by Reifsteck’s heady play, lifting the Blue Devils to a 31-24 lead.
“I saw Drew getting trapped, so I cut to the basket, and he hit me,” Stanford said. “He’s a great point guard.”
Stanford added 10 points for the Blue Devils to complement Reifsteck on the offensive end. His performance wasn’t lost on his coach.
“He’s really our X-factor,” Tidwell said. “Everybody knows about Drew, but Kaj has been consistent year in and year out. He does a lot for us, and he really came up big in that second half.”
SJ-O wouldn’t get any closer the rest of the game after Stanford’s bucket, with Reifsteck making 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win.
“The bigger the game, the bigger he plays,” Tidwell said of Reifsteck. “That was evident (Friday). He’s very unselfish. He’s all about the team.”
Which is why Reifsteck received a plethora of hugs afterwards from the many BHRA fans who made the trek to SJ-O’s gymnasium and filled their half of the venue.
“Just as a team, we’re gritty,” Reifsteck said. “We thrive in pressure situations. I knew my team would get it done.”
Now, it’s on to Pontiac for the Blue Devils. Reifsteck seemed to soak in the feeling in the minutes after Friday night’s win, but his mind was already starting to think ahead.
“We were looking forward to this one,” Reifsteck said, “but we’re going to get up Saturday morning and get to work. We aren’t done yet.”