BEMIDJI -- Jody Pemberton’s final shot of the first half -- a why-not-throw-it-up kind of heave -- was a microcosm of Thursday night.
A messy start to the possession forced Pemberton to toss up a prayer to beat the halftime buzzer, but the shot banked in, much to the delight of Pemberton and her teammates. The party was on from there, as the Bemidji High School girls basketball team recovered from a slow start and beat Sauk Rapids-Rice 78-64 to open the Section 8-3A Tournament at the BHS Gymnasium.
“We had our going-into-halftime play, and we ran it, fumbled it a little bit, it rolled around a little bit. Jody flung it up there, and it went in,” Lumberjacks head coach Steve Schreiber said. “It’s always fun when that happens. … That kind of helped us relax a little bit, too. You feel like you maybe get one of those a year. You go into halftime with a smile and you feel good about yourself.”
Here’s how Jody Pemberton ended the first half. Great coaching to save that play for the postseason. pic.twitter.com/ZeaEAFfV19— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 19, 2021
Third-seeded Bemidji faced some nerves in the early go, spotting the sixth-seeded Storm a six-point head start in the process. But once BHS overcame the bright lights of the postseason, the offense took off.
“They were nervous,” Schreiber said. “Even in pregame, the legs were shaking and everything else. … We settled down as soon as we got that first free throw to go, that first bucket to go. Everything just smoothed out for us.”
The offense put up 44 points in the opening frame, none more fortunate than Pemberton’s buzzer-beater. But it was only a footnote on an impressive offensive outburst.
Trailing 10-7 six minutes in, the Jacks (9-10) exploded for 13 straight points. Jackie Johnson drained a 3-pointer to finish the run with a bang, and even after Sauk Rapids-Rice responded, Bemidji didn’t stay dormant for long.
BHS scored 12 points over the final 1:35 of the half, including and-one layups from Marlee Bieber and Johnson to take a sudden 44-25 lead into the break.
“The conversation at practice yesterday and in pregame today was (about) being a team,” Schreiber said. “Let’s look for ways for us to score, but let’s look for ways for teammates to score, too. I thought we did a really good job of that tonight.”
Beth Bolte had the opening bucket of the second half to open up a 21-point lead. The Storm started to crawl back behind freshman Sienna Petermeier, who scored nine points in a two-minute span and made it a 10-point game at 71-61 with 3:31 to go. But the comeback never had a true spark, and the Lumberjacks nursed their sizable lead to the finish with ease.
“They just hit some shots that they didn’t hit in the first half,” Schreiber said. “(An 11-point game) with five minutes to go is not a safe lead, so I’m glad the girls buckled down at that point.”
Johnson produced a game-high 18 points, while Emily Wade hit 17 and Pemberton 14. Bolte added 12 to give BHS four double-digit scorers and a season-high point total.
Petermeier and Mia Rogholt each put up 14 points for the Storm.
Bemidji now advances to the Section 8-3A semifinals for the fifth season in a row, and this year the Jacks will travel to Detroit Lakes for a 7 p.m. tipoff on Tuesday, March 23. The second-seeded Lakers defeated seventh-seeded St. Cloud Tech 67-52 on Thursday night. DL also defeated BHS 60-57 at home on March 4.
“We’ve got to play this way on offense,” Schreiber said. “That game (in the regular season), we tended to play more individualized and less team-wise. If we can do this -- if we can drive and find people, drive and rim run -- I think we should be able to get up in that 60- or 70-point range. And I think we’re going to need to.”
No. 3 Bemidji 78, No. 6 Sauk Rapids-Rice 64
SRR 25 39 -- 64
BHS 44 34 -- 78
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE (4-14) -- Rogholt 14, Petermeier 14, Roesch 11, Froiland 9, Paulsen 7, Evans 5, Felchle 3, Guggisberg 1.
BEMIDJI (9-10) -- Johnson 18, Wade 17, Pemberton 14, Bolte 12, Tatro 6, Milbrandt 5, M. Bieber 4, Peterson 2.
Team raises $2,000 for cancer center
The team announced pregame that it had raised nearly $2,000 for the Joe Lueken Cancer Center of Bemidji through taking charges during the season.
Beth Bolte took two charges during Thursday's game to get the team over its season-long goal of $2,000. Players of the team took pledges to fundraise throughout the year, and the team has taken 42 charges through Thursday's game.