Panthers win state opener over Bertha-Hewitt

MINNEAPOLIS -- Cass Lake-Bena may have one of the most potent offenses in the state, but Nate Howard thinks the defense deserves a bit more attention.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Cass Lake-Bena may have one of the most potent offenses in the state, but Nate Howard thinks the defense deserves a bit more attention.

"Our defense is really underrated, I think," the Cass Lake-Bena junior said. "Just because we have a good offense, no one thinks we can play defense."

Cass Lake-Bena used strong defensive play and a bit of improvisation to defeat top-ranked Bertha-Hewitt 79-51 in the quarterfinals of the state Class A basketball tournament Thursday afternoon at Mariucci Arena.

Though the Panthers led for 57 of the 60 minutes, Bertha-Hewitt was able to keep the game in reach. The Panthers' offense averages 93 points per game this season, but it was the defense that answered when the Bears tested.

"Any true basketball fan will tell you that you win championships on defense and you win games with offense," Cass Lake-Bena head coach Dan Ninham said. "I have a saying that you need offense and defense to win a championship."


The Panthers were able to get that offense and four players reached double-figures scoring.

Howard led the charge for the Panthers, scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Joel Salscheider had 22 points, Nate Salscheider had 16 and Martin Wind had 12.

Marcus Riewer scored 27 points for No. 1 ranked Bertha-Hewitt (28-1), which lost its first game of the season.

The win improved Cass Lake-Bena to 28-3 this season and advanced the Panthers to Friday's state semifinal at Target Center against Minnesota Transitions Charter School. The Minneapolis-based school defeated Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton 77-32 in the early game Thursday.

Today's semifinal is set for a noon start and it will be televised on KSTC.

"I highly respect Minnesota Transitions," Ninham said. "They are a mirror image of us in one sense and they are really explosive."

Ellsworth and Norman County East will meet in the other semifinal at Target Center at 2 p.m. Ellsworth defeated Grenada-Huntley-East Chain 59-41 and Norman County East defeated Chisholm 59-42 on Thursday.

Howard's 3-pointer five minutes into the game gave the Panthers an early 7-3 lead, but Bertha-Hewitt did not allow the Panthers to pull away.


The Bears rallied to tie the game at 9-9 on a layup by Jordan Ashbaugh. It was the only tie of the game as Cass-Lake went on a 12-5 run over the next four minutes to take a 21-14 lead, their biggest of the first half.

Bertha-Hewitt pulled the score back to 29-25 with a run over the next four minutes, capped off by Riewer's 3-pointer with 5:28 remaining.

The rest of the half belonged to Cass Lake-Bena and a strong finish in the last 70 seconds gave the Panthers a blast of confidence heading into the locker room.

With Cass Lake-Bena leading 35-30 with 1:19 left, Nate Salscheider hit a pair of free throws, Howard hit a 3-pointer and Travis Heusers' layup with 20 seconds left gave the Panthers a 42-30 lead at half.

"I told them I wanted a double-digit lead going into the break and the kids came through," Ninham said. "Twelve points is not insurmountable in this day in age, but it's above zero and that was a plus for us."

Cass Lake-Bena dominated under the basket in the first half, outscoring Bertha-Hewitt 24-16 in the paint.

Bertha-Hewitt opened the second half with a 12-5 run over the first 10 minutes, forcing Cass Lake-Bena to move into a 1-3-1 defense. It was a formation the Panthers did not use or practice the entire season.

Joel Salscheider said the Panthers have a strong ability to improvise, so the adjustment was not a difficult one.


"You just have to do what you got to do," he said. "We were able to run that well right off the bat."

The Panthers attacked Riewer on defense, forcing him to shoot from the outside and went on a 9-4 run over the span of three minutes. With 6:48 to play, the Panthers held a 66-53 lead and were able to hold it the rest of the way.

Bertha-Hewitt shot just 36 percent from the field against the Panthers defense. Cass Lake-Bena shot 50 percent from the field and were 17-for-27 from the free-throw line.

"We know we are good and we knew we could beat them," Howard said. "We've been here before and we have the experience."


E A total of 361 Cass Lake-Bena fans on seven buses and four school vans made the trip to watch the game. The fans drove back up north after the game and are expected to return to Minneapolis for Friday's semifinal.

E The game was played at Mariucci Arena, the home of the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team. The game was played on a basketball court from St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

E As Cass Lake-Bena players returned to their locker room after the win, the Minnesota men's hockey team was packing up to leave for Worcester, Mass. for their NCAA tournament opener Saturday against Boston College.


E Riewer was the only player to be effective against Cass Lake-Bena's defense. Jordan Ashbaugh was the second highest scorer with 10 points and no other Bear reached double figures.

E Bertha-Hewitt's 1-0 lead at 17:44 of the first half was the Bears' only lead of the entire game.

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