BEMIDJI -- Thursday night began as no piece of art for the Bemidji High School girls basketball team. But a dreadful first half doesn't look so bad when you’ve got a 30-2 run saved in your back pocket.
“We knew we were the better team,” senior Katie Alto said. “We had already beaten them once, and we knew we could do it. We just had to come out strong, play well on defense and make our shots.”
The second-seeded Lumberjacks reversed course in a big way, blowing out seventh-seeded St. Cloud Apollo 58-34 to open the Section 8-3A Tournament at the BHS Gymnasium.
“I hope that tonight allows us to shake our jitters off,” Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber said. “And I hope that tonight is a wake-up call that we need to be a little more focused.”
St. Cloud Apollo (2-24) kept in contention as the benefactor of the Jacks’ overwhelming offensive tribulations. BHS (18-8) went over six minutes without a point, and nearly eight minutes without a field goal, as the Eagles held an 8-7 edge more than midway through the first half.
“From the first game, we just thought it’d be an easy game,” Alto said of a 74-33 Bemidji win from Jan. 11. “But when we got out there, they were making their shots and we were missing ours. We had to pick it up on defense and have our defense carry into offense.”
St. Cloud Apollo led as late as 15-14 in the final 2:30, but the Lumberjacks finally came to life with a 9-0 run to finish the first half. Alto put in a pair of transition layups, Emily Wade added a free throw and Lindsey Hildenbrand finished it with a fast-break jumper to beat the buzzer.
“With it being that early and us shooting as bad as we were, (we were OK),” Schreiber said. “If they would’ve been scoring on us, I would have been worried. But our defense was playing strong enough. I knew shots were going to (fall) at some point.”
The second half didn’t feature the drama or frustrations of its predecessor. Alto scored the first seven points, and after a Keshona McGaughy inside score, BHS had the next 14 points for a dominant 30-2 outburst.
“Obviously if we lose, we’re done,” Alto said. “We didn’t want to be done, so I kind of took it on myself to be the leader, set the fire and start the fire for everyone else to pull out the win.”
Even though it required a detour, Bemidji still found a way to reach the finish line.
“At halftime, we told them that if we can’t score out of our half-court offense because we can’t get shots to go, we’ve got to get steals and layups,” Schreiber said. “We came out in the second half and got that. … Thankfully we had some of our girls say, ‘We’re not going to stop shooting. Something is going to go.’ Katie was a big part of that.”
The Lumberjacks led 44-17 after the final point of the run, and it was all over by then. The last 12 minutes played out as a formality in the eventual 24-point win.
Alto racked up a game-high 23 points on the evening. Jackie Johnson worked out to 10, all in the second half, and Hildenbrand added another nine.
McGaughy’s 16 led the Eagles.
Bemidji will next face third-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen in the section semifinals. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, at the BHS Gymnasium.
“We obviously didn’t come out the best, but the second half was good for us,” Alto said. “Even if we start out slow, we know we can come back and get back into it. For the next games, we just can’t be nervous.”
No. 2 Bemidji 58, No. 7 St. Cloud Apollo 34
SCA 15 19 -- 34
BHS 23 35 -- 58
ST. CLOUD APOLLO (2-24) -- McGaughy 16, Anderson 6, Koepp 5, Jackson-Banks 3, Hackenmueller 2, Hansen 2.
BEMIDJI (18-8) -- Alto 23, Johnson 10, L. Hildenbrand 9, E. Wade 7, Hofstad 3, R. Jones 2, Zetah-Cornelius 2, B. Peterson 1, Tatro 1.