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Bemidji High School girls basketball: It's on to state for red-hot Jacks

Bemidji senior Erika Weimann takes her turn cutting down the net following Bemidji's 76-54 victory over Hibbing in the Section 7-3A championship game at the Hibbing Memorial Arena. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

HIBBING - Erika Weimann said the Bemidji High School girls basketball team has played this season with the motto of "taking the next step."

That step looked more like a leap Thursday night as the Lumberjacks punched their ticket to the state tournament by defeating Hibbing 76-54 in the Section 7-3A championship game.

"Us seniors have been looking forward to this moment for a long time, basically since sixth grade," Weimann said after taking a turn cutting down the net inside the Hibbing Memorial Arena. "We've been saying 'take the next step' the entire season and we did it tonight."

The BHS girls basketball team qualified for their first state tournament since 2001 and will open the state tournament next Wednesday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The Jacks will learn their opponent Saturday when the teams will be seeded and the quarterfinal pairings announced. The Jacks, ranked No. 3 in the state most of the season, should likely draw that seed barring any upsets in other section tournaments.

The Jacks improved to 25-1 this season and have not lost a game since Dec. 18. Thursday's championship followed the 72-44 section semifinal win over Grand Rapids and was the Jacks' 20th win in a row.

"It's all really come together for us this year and that's what the good teams do," Bemidji head coach Rick Kehoe said. "Last year we lost to Elk River in the section tournament by two points and we thought then we had a good chance to go to state. This year, the girls were not going to let anyone get close."

The championship was played in front of about 2,000 fans with a strong hometown Hibbing crowd. The game was close early before Kayla Hirt, Kelsey Heisler and Weimann teamed up to give Bemidji the offense it needed to win the game.

Hirt, who has already committed to the University of Minnesota, finished with a team-high 40 points, and when she wasn't scoring she was dishing assists, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Heisler and Weimann each had 11 points to round out the Jacks in double-figure scoring.

"We're 25-1 this season and it would be easy to get complacent, but we're not," Hirt said. "We came into this game prepared to play against a talented team. We feel like we can run with anyone at state."

Hibbing's top scoring threat, Laicee Grahek, had 16 points to lead the Bluejackets. Kate Lange and Hailey Smith each had 12 points.

Hibbing (22-6) challenged early, matching the Lumberjacks at 23-23 halfway through the first half. From there, the Jacks went on a 12-0 run to break the game open and followed shortly after with a 7-0 run to take a 44-30 lead at halftime.

The Jacks did not allow the Bluejackets to score until seven minutes into the second half, and by that time, Bemidji held a 55-32 lead.

"I think defense is really a big part of this team," Hirt said. "People give credit to our offense but that's not all we are."

Hibbing mounted a small comeback and cut Bemidji's lead to 59-49 with 7:41 remaining, but the Jacks responded with an 11-2 run to put the game away.

"I would say were a confident, but not cocky team," Heisler said. "The last few years we would come into games thinking 'oh, we can win this.' This year we're out playing with something to prove and we want to win. Every year I say we have such great chemistry and it's the same this year ... we're just going to keep working hard because we know at state, everyone's there to win it."

Hibbing (54): Laicee Grahek 16 4-5, Whitney Finco 0 0-2, Kate Lange 12 1-4, Hillary Bungarden 11 2-2, Hailey Smith 12 2-2, Kayla Swanson 3 0-0. Field goals 15 (Lange 4, Grahek 3, Bungarden 3, Smith 5). 3-point goals 5 (Grahek 2, Lange 1, Bungarden 1, Swanson 1). Fouls 12

Bemidji (76): Kayla Hirt 40 6-6, Erika Weimann 11 0-0, Kelsey Heisler 11 1-2, Kenzie Kane 7 0-0, Megan Huseby 4 0-2, Jess Yost 2 0-0, Selina Gilbertson 1 1-2. Field goals 31 (Hirt 17, Heisler 5, Weimann 4, Huseby 2, Kane 2, Yost 1). 3-point goals 2 (Weimann 1, Kane 1). Fouls 14.

Halftime--Bemidji 44, Hibbing 30.