Jacks, Spuds renew rivalry with trip to state boys basketball tournament on the line
The latest chapter in a history filled with playoff battles will be written Thursday when Bemidji and Moorhead square off for the Section 8-4A boys basketball championship.
According to the section seedings, which were based on the QRF rankings, neither team was supposed to advance to the 7 p.m. championship game at Crookston High School.
The Lumberjacks were 13-12 entering the postseason and were awarded the sixth seed. Their journey to the title game began with a 67-64 win over No. 3 Elk River and on Saturday the Jacks ousted No. 2 seed Rogers 44-41.
Moorhead was 15-9 and was ranked fifth among the eight section squads. Its victims include No. 4 St. Michael-Albertville (56-55 in overtime) and No. 8 Brainerd (81-57). Brainerd, the other North team, did its part to make fans in this half of the state proud as the Warriors tripped No. 1 seed Buffalo 67-64 in the opening round.
BHS coach Jeff Brown did not subscribe to the theory that the squads from the South half of the section were superior to their North counterparts despite all of the better seeds going to the teams along the I-94 and Highway 10 corridor.
When the lower-seeded North teams eliminated the South squads in the opening round Brown was not surprised.
"We came to Elk River and pulled off the upset but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't the only one of the night," Brown said.
In Saturday's section semifinal victory over Rogers Bemidji's defense was the difference. In a low-scoring game in which every point and every defensive stop was vital, BHS was up to the task.
By design, the Lumberjacks collapsed on Rogers' 6-9 and 6-7 post players Michael Schreiber and Josh Turnquist whenever the ball went inside. At the same time Connor Sullivan and Devaughn Rainey kept Rogers' big guys away from the basket.
The result was a combined 15 points for the two trees.
Offensively, only Carey Woods reached double figures (19) for Bemidji but the rest of the roster came through with key points down the stretch.
Mitch Brown drained a 3-pointer and converted from the free throw line in the final minutes to give the Jacks the lead and help preserve it.
Sullivan finished with eight points to offset any production from Rogers' inside game.
Now comes the Spuds. Bemidji and its old-time rival met twice this year and, to no one's surprise, they split a pair of home victories.
On Jan. 7 Moorhead posted a 74-57 win but a month later the BHS returned the favor 51-47 in Bemidji.
"It's going to be a great game," Brown said of the rubber match. "Crookston is a great location. It's not a very big gym so the atmosphere will be electric."
When two programs play each other at least twice each season there are no surprises with regard to the game plan or the talents of the athletes on the court.
Bemidji knows what Moorhead will try to do and the Spuds won't be confused by anything the Jacks try.
"These kids have grown up playing each other and many of them are two-sport athletes," Brown said. "When you square off that often there are no secrets.
"During the past two seasons we split four close games and now we get to play them again. And this time the outcome will decide the trip to the state tournament."
The 14th annual All-Star hockey game matching Duluth area high school players and their counterparts from the Iron Range and the rest of northern Minnesota will be 7:15 p.m. today at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
The Northern Minnesota roster will include senior Lumberjacks Matt Serratore, Jordan Heller and Tyler Tatro.
Serratore and Heller are forwards while Tatro is a defenseman.
Representing Grand Rapids are goalie Patrick Flaherty, defensemen Jordy Stejskal and Jake Bischoff plus forwards Nate Mondry and Cody Mann.
Brainerd's players include forwards Mitch McLain, Matt Pohlkamp and Aaron Rich while Hibbing defender Mike Pechovnik and forward Adam Johnson also are on the North roster.
Completing the team are Greenway goalie Erikur Arnason, Virginia defenseman Derek Judnick and International Falls forward Lucas Debenedet.
The Duluth area team includes players representing Cloquet, Moose Lake, Denfeld, Hermantown, Marshall, Duluth East and Superior.