The dream ended for the outstanding Bemidji High girls basketball team Saturday when it fell to Elk River 61-59 at Wadena.
The Elks will face Brainerd or Buffalo Friday at St. John's University for the title.
Bemidji entered the playoffs top seeded at 22-3. Elk River was seeded fourth, entering play at 16-11 but compiled mainly against a Twin Cities schedule.
Ex-Bemidji coach Tim Mayclin, who coaches AAU ball all summer, rated the Elks as the second best team in the tournament after watching them in action last summer.
While they struggled to get past fifth ranked Apollo 53-51 in the quarterfinals, they had just enough to win again by two points in the semifinals.
Bemidji held the Elks to 21 points in the second half as Kelsey Heisler clamped scoring star Tempest Wilson with five points.
But Bemidji had the same problem with the Elks holding Kayla Hirt to six after she reached halftime with 22.
The Elks took a 49-42 lead early in the second period with a seven-point run.
But Bemidji battled back gamely to eventually go ahead 57-56 in the final two minutes but managed only one basket the rest of the way despite numerous scoring opportunities.
"The shots simply wouldn't drop all night," said a disappointed Bemidji coach Rick Kehoe. We certainly had our chances. We also missed some key free throws in the final minutes that could have turned the tide."
In most respects, the contest was likely the championship game and was played like one from the start.,
The two teams traded field goals through most of the first half with Hirt and Wilson almost unstoppable underneath.
Hirt hit 11 times from around the basket. Wilson had six baskets including a trey and added three free throws for 16.
A run of six early in the period gave Bemidji a 12-9 lead for the first time. But Wilson tied the game with her trey and it was tied at 14, 16 and 18 before Bemidji went ahead 22-18 on back to back Hirt lay-ups.
It fell back 29-26 late in the going but came back with a trey from Erika Weimann to tie again before a three point play by Cortni Metcalf sent the Elks back in front.
Two late treys from Tiffany Cornelius and Lindsey Hamilton pushed the margin to 40-35 before Hirt's final field goal sent Bemidji to the locker room trailing by three.
Megan Larson opened the second half with a trey to knot the score and the two teams traded field goals to remain tied 42-42.
At this point, Elk River ran seven and seemed ready to break the game open as Bemidji began missing connections with the basket.
It was 54-48 when Hirt hit her first two field goals of the half around a free throw by Larson and suddenly Bemidji was back in the picture, trailing 54-53.
Moments later a run of four on Heisler's field goal and free throws by Paige Jensen and Meg Claypool pushed Bemidji ahead 57-56 though all three missed one free throw in their trips to the line.
Wilson's two free throws and two more by Hamilton sent the Elks back ahead 60-57.
Hirt's last field goal got Bemidji within one and it had several more good shots that failed to connect before sending Hamilton to the line for the final free throw.
Bemidji had just time for one desperation shot that failed.
Metcalf was the only other Elk to reach double figures with 10. Hamilton had nine.
Hirt was the only Bemidji player in double figures. Jensen closed with nine and Larson eight.
Bemdji's 23-4 final record was its third best in history, exceeded only by the 24-1 mark in1992 and 23-2 a year later. Neither of those teams reached the state either.
Graduation will claim Jensen, Larson and Meg Claypool from the starting cast and reserves Ashley Hirt and Erika Bauer.
But seven other tournament players are back, five of them regulars, for what shapes up as another banner year in 2119,
They will be joined by members of the B and C Teams including the C team's two 300 point performers Jess Yost and Kenzie Kane, both only eighth graders.
"The seniors were a fantastic group of kids," said Kehoe "who helped reestablish Bemidji on the basketball map. They will be sorely missed with at least two headed for college ball next year."
Hirt ended her second season with 658 points this year and 1,054 for her two years. She has two more to go before joining the Gophers in 2012.
Bemidji ended with a 38- 31 lead off the boards and had only 15 turnovers to the Elks 19.
But Elk River won the one battle that meant the most, total points.
BEMIDJI (59) Jensen 3 3-4 3 9; Larson 3 1-2 0 8; K. Hirt 12 4-4 4-28; Claypool 1 1-3 3 3; Hendricks 0 0-0 3 0; A. Hirt 2 0-1 1 4; Weimann 1 0-0 1 3; Heisler 2 0-1 0 4; Huseby 0 0-0 0 0; Totals: 24 9-15 18 59
ELK RIVER (61) Hamilton 3 2-2 3 9; Wilson 7 6-7 3 21; Metcalf 4 2-2 3 10; Hanson 2 1-2 2 4; Sweet 2 0-1 2 4; Cornelius 1 0-0 3 3; Orrock 0 0-0 0 0; Jenson 3 3-3 1 9; Totals: 22 14-17 16 61
Halftime score; Elk River 40, Bemidji 37
Three point field goals: Bemidji 1-Weimann; Elk River 3 (Hamilton, Wilson, Cornelius)
Rebounds: Bemidji 38, Elk River 31
Turnovers: Bemidji 15, Elk River 19