BEMIDJI -- With points at a premium on Thursday, the Bemidji High School girls basketball team had to lean on its defense.
If you ask the Lumberjacks, they’re built for this.
“We’ve been this team all year,” BHS head coach Steve Schreiber said. “Whenever we’ve had a close game at the end here, we’ve finished it. … It’s just kind of the mantra of the team: We don’t lose close games.”
Bemidji made its final stand for nearly five minutes, holding Brainerd scoreless over the last 4 minutes, 49 seconds to secure a 52-41 win inside the BHS Gymnasium.
“We really tried to talk more on defense,” junior center Rylie Jones said. “We were covering each other more on helpside. We were shutting down their shooters, too, and we were boxing out well.”
The Lumberjack defense had it all at the finish, from the fundamentals to the intangibles. The Warriors (6-9) tied the game at 41-41 with a shade under five minutes to play, but Bemidji (12-4) held Brainerd without a point on its last eight possessions and allowed its own offense to close on an 11-0 run.
“We have not lost a close game yet, and that comes down to our seniors,” Schreiber said. “You’ll see Lindsey (Hildenbrand) and Katie (Alto) and Ashley (Hofstad) and Taylor (Wade) in there taking care of the basketball. … I feel 100 percent confident that, if we’re in a close game, we’re going to win.”
At the finish, the Jacks -- from top to bottom -- did their jobs to keep the Warriors at bay. Jackie Johnson soared up for a pair of rebounds, Beth Bolte snagged a critical steal, and Jones and Hildenbrand were in position for more boards after rushed Brainerd misses.
“We all really played as a team. Together,” Jones said. “We all did our part. We were helping each other the whole night.”
BHS still had to earn it, though. Bemidji fell behind after the opening bucket, going five minutes without a point, and the Warriors rattled off nine in a row to go ahead 9-2.
The comeback was a struggle from then on. The Jacks came within one at 13-12 on a pair of Johnson free throws, but the Warriors answered with seven of the next eight points to separate 24-17 by the break.
BHS struggled to identify Brainerd’s 1-3-1 zone, and in turn struggled to solve it, but a halftime adjustment into the appropriate offense made for a smoother second half.
“In the second half, when we got out of our own way a little bit, it flowed,” Schreiber said. “… The first half, I would say it was more of our overthinking of things than anything Brainerd was doing to us.”
Bemidji rode a 9-0 run early in the second half, and Bolte’s 3-pointer put the Lumberjacks in front 31-28. The Warriors stuck around for three more ties, the last of which was at 41-all on a Kate Stadum layup, but the night belonged to BHS from then on.
“We’ve shown that we are a defensive, solid team,” Schreiber said. “If you’re a defensive-minded team, you should be able to hang with just about anybody.”
Hildenbrand finished with a game-high 12 points, while all of Alto’s 11 came in the second half.
Bemidji will next gear up for a Section 8-3A heavyweight bout against Alexandria for the inside track to the section’s top seed. The Lumberjacks host the Cardinals at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at the BHS Gymnasium.
“We have told the girls all year long that the next game is our biggest game. Don’t look ahead,” Schreiber said. “We’re maybe not fibbing to them this time. The next game is the very biggest game that we have in our regular season. We’ve worked hard to get to the point.”
Bemidji 52, Brainerd 41
BRD 24 17 -- 41
BEM 17 25 -- 52
BRAINERD (6-9) -- Brzezinski 10, Nelson 7, Tautges 6, Zimmerman 6, Stadum 4, Johnson 3, Lane 3, Miles 2.
BEMIDJI (12-4) -- L. Hildenbrand 12, Alto 11, E. Wade 9, Johnson 7, Hofstad 6, R. Jones 4, Bolte 3.