BEMIDJI - Faced with the loss of their top post player, the Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball team found itself struggling to get any momentum in the second half Thursday against Pine River-Backus.
The Panthers trailed the Tigers by just one point at halftime, but Sunshyne Kingbird injured her ankle early in the second half and did not return.
That wasn’t the only reason why the Panthers had trouble keeping up with the Tigers, but it was a an important element, as Pine River-Backus pulled away in the final 18 minutes to earn the 59-37 win at the Sanford Center.
“That was a factor, the loss of our dominant post player in Sunshyne,” CL-B head coach William Gustafson said. “Fortunately it’s not a serious incident. She’s a captain of the team and she’s been much improved this season. We need her back.”
Kingbird, who scored four points and had a solid game rebounding game in the first half, came down hard on her ankle while going for a rebound in the second. She didn’t come back to the game.
The Panthers (0-4) and the Tigers (1-5) were playing as part of the Homark Homes Hardwood Showcase, and both teams seemed to struggle shooting in the bigger arena (as opposed to a gym) early in the game.
And although PR-B started the game with an early 5-0 lead, they were never able to pull away in the first half.
Cass Lake-Bena never led in the game, but trailed by as many as six points in the first half before charging back to tie it up at 22-22 thanks a to a pair of layups by Danica Staples with 3:07 to play.
The Panthers could never jump out to a lead, however, as Pine River Backus’ Rylie Hirshey hit two foul shots, followed by Emma Mills making 1-of-2 free throws to extend the Tigers’ lead to 25-22 with 2:45 to play.
Staples once again cut the Panthers’ lead to one point, 25-24, with 2:10 left, and they ended up with the ball back and a chance for a last shot - to go into the break with the lead.
However, they missed on a shot with nine seconds to play before Pine River-Backus missed another at the buzzer, which made it 25-24 going into halftime.
After the teams emerged from the locker room, however, it was almost all Tigers.
The Panthers managed to cut the lead to 30-27 on an early 3-pointer by Trina Headbird, but the Tigers went on a 13-1 run over the next 8 minutes to pull away.
“We struggle with putting two good halves together,” Gustafson said. It’s a lot of factors, some of it’s mental. We still need to work on our conditioning and confidence… it’s believing they can put together two halves against a good team on a consistent basis game to game, and we’re working on that.”
Staples led Cass Lake-Bena with a team-high 13 points while Headbird was the only other Panther to reach double figures with 10 points.
The Tigers, who went 20-5 a season ago, were led by Alyssa Semmler’s 15 points.
The Panthers committed a total of 26 fouls and allowed the Tigers to attempt 45 foul shots.
Cass Lake-Bena will hope to earn their first victory next week, as they host Blackduck on Monday and travel to Mahnomen on Tuesday. The Panthers didn’t record a victory until after Christmas last season, but Gustafson said Thursday’s game encouraged him and the team.
“We can play close very close and right with the top teams in the region and the conference,” he said. “But you haver to have the bench, you have to have the conditioning and you have to have the mental toughness to do it for two halves. We’re still working on that.”
Pine River-Backus 59, Cass Lake-Bena 37
Pine River-Backus - Wynn 2 6-8 11; Rainwater 2 3-7 5; Zaczkowski 0 0-0 0; Alyssa Semmler 5 5-10 15; Annie Semmler 2 4-6 8; Hirschey 1 4-4 6; Barchus 1 2-4 4; Mills 3 3-6 9. Totals 15 29-45 59.
Cass Lake-Bena - White 0 0-0 0; T.Headbird 3 2-4 10; Littlewolf 0 0-0 0; M.Headbird 0 0-0 0; Staples 5 2-3 13; Buskik 1 0-4 2; Brown 0 0-0 0; S.Kingbird 2 0-0 4; Ortiz 0 0-0 0; Jacobs 2 0-0 6; LaRuse 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 4-11 37.