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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Bemidji survives, advances with demanding win over Storm

Bemidji High School seniors Allison Beard, left, and Mackenzie Nicklason cheer after the Lumberjacks scored during a Section 8-3A quarterfinal game against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Lumberjack senior Katie Alto (10) passes inside during a Section 8-3A quarterfinal game against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Bemidji High School senior Rumer Flatness (32) moves the ball against Sauk Rapids-Rice in a Section 8-3A quarterfinal game on Tuesday at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI -- It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always pretty, but the Bemidji High School girls basketball team did enough to manufacture a 72-58 win over Sauk Rapids-Rice at the BHS Gymnasium on Tuesday in the Section 8-3A Tournament quarterfinals.

“We get another game,” Lumberjacks head coach Steve Schreiber said. “We know we’re going to have to play better against Fergus Falls (in the semifinals). Get this one out of the way. We’ve got three days, I’m sure the girls are going to come ready to work.”

Third-seeded Bemidji (16-10) faced a courageous effort from the sixth-seeded Storm (3-23), and, midway through the first half, Sauk Rapids-Rice had a spirited 13-9 lead with high intensity and a disruptive defense.

“It was playoff jitters,” junior Katie Alto said. “We just had to come out of it, go out, play like we normally do. And we were fine. We just had to settle down on offense and play hard defense.”

BHS sprinted away with the advantage after the early wake-up call, posting a 33-5 run in five minutes’ time.

“We needed to get our energy up and take it to them because they were ready. (Our) energy wasn’t there right away,” senior Mackenzie Nicklason said. “We were a little bit anxious with the ball. It was just the playoff jitters, so we got those out of the way, and then we were playing more relaxed and together.”

Alto netted a pair of 3-pointers, and Nicklason added another, for a quick 9-0 spurt to break from a 15-all tie. It was just the start of the separation, though, because after a Storm free throw, the Jacks added another 9-0 run behind two baskets from Emily Wade.

Lindsey Hildenbrand finished the extended spurt when she stripped the ball on a backcourt trap and ran it in for a layup, putting Bemidji ahead 42-18.

“We just got the right group in that had energy,” Schreiber said. “Watching the starters get out there and do their thing, it allowed the bench to relax a little bit.”

BHS went into the locker room with a 47-29 lead, but in the second half, Sauk Rapids-Rice brought out the sloppy tendencies in the Lumberjacks once more.

The Storm had things within 14 early in the second half. Bemidji had enough answers to fend them off, plus its big scoreboard advantage to fall back on, but Sauk Rapids-Rice kept pushing to the end.

The BHS lead was never in danger late in the second half, but a game once poised for a blowout turned into a 72-58 final.

“We just have to be able to put two halves of basketball together and play one good game,” Alto said. “With Sauk, we were able to not play our best, and we still won. But on Saturday with Fergus, we’re going to have to play our best to win.”

Alto finished with a team-high 16 points, while Nicklason added 15. Bailey Roscoe and Shayna Payonk pioneered the Storm rally with 23 and 17 points, respectively.

Bemidji advances to play second-seeded Fergus Falls in the Section 8-3A semifinals at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, March 2, in Moorhead -- with reservations for the section championship at stake.

“A win’s a win. We’ll take it,” Schreiber said. “We wanted 16 wins on the seasons. We got 16. Now we want 17. That’s the new goal. We know if we play well, we can hang with Fergus Falls. That’s got to be the focus and the mindset: Go out there and play under control, play good on defense and give ourselves a chance.”

Bemidji 72, Sauk Rapids-Rice 58

SRR 29 29 -- 58

BHS 47 25 -- 72

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE (3-23) -- Roscoe 23, Payonk 17, Reberg 8, Evans 6, Froiland 2, Roesch 2.

BEMIDJI (16-10) -- Alto 16, Nicklason 15, R. Flatness 9, Hildenbrand 9,  Johnson 7, Hofstad 6, E. Wade 4, Bieber 2, R. Jones 2, T. Wade 2.

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.

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