ALEXANDRIA -- With crowded championship banners watching on in their home gym, Alexandria made a new addition to the collection on Friday at the expense of the Bemidji High School girls basketball team.
The Cardinals, leaning on their championship pedigree, defeated the Lumberjacks in the Section 8-3A title game for the second year in a row, this time by a 67-53 outcome.
“They’re moving on here, right? They’re going to get another game, and we’re going home,” BHS head coach Steve Schreiber said. “But I still feel like, with the success our girls had this year, there’s nothing for us to hang our heads about.”
It was no traditional successful season, as Bemidji started just 5-8 on the year. The team slowly but surely made its rise from the ashes, though, ultimately coming within one game of the state tournament.
“I’m very proud of this team,” said junior guard Jody Pemberton, who finished with a season-high and team-leading 16 points on Friday. “The season started out rough, but we worked hard. We put everything that we learned in practice and in film together. We just went out and played our game, like we always want to.”
The third-seeded Lumberjacks (10-11) gave the defending champs a valiant fight in the first half. Despite falling behind 16-8 after eight minutes and change, Beth Bolte and Emily Wade drained back-to-back 3-pointers, helping keep within 19-15. Minutes later, after sinking into a 24-16 hole, the defense shut down top-seeded Alexandria (17-4) for a 4:53 stretch that allowed a game-tying 8-0 run.
Bolte started the push with a three, Pemberton added a hook shot in the paint, and Alexie Tatro and Emily Wade chipped in to tie the game at 24-24. The stretch included a number of defensive highlights, as well, à la Wade’s chase-down block and Bolte’s cross-court deflection and save as the tipped ball was heading out of bounds.
But Alexandria roared back through Mataya Hoelscher and Lilly Horn, who knocked down back-to-back threes to close the half.
“We were buying into the notion that we couldn’t give up 3-pointers,” Schreiber said. “The paint wasn’t going to be the scary area this game. It was something we did well early on. But as we got tired, that mental fatigue set in, and we started to collapse in with two or three girls. They’re just too good of shooters for us to collapse in.”
The Cardinals used that momentum and expanded it in the second half, scoring 10 of the first 11 points for a 16-1 run that bridged the halves. By then, they were ahead 40-25.
Bemidji couldn’t cut into the deficit for much of the final 15:05, as Alexandria built a 20-point lead at 57-37 with 4:53 to go.
The Jacks made a desperate last push in the final 2:37. Down 19 by then, they clawed back to 64-53 in a minute’s time and even got the ball back, but BHS never snuck back within single digits.
Bemidji’s final shots of the season were drawn up for Rylie Jones, who lost her senior season due to an ACL injury over the summer. Her 3-pointers sailed wide, but the fun finish, along with the late comeback, allowed for a little more pride in the end.
Rylie Jones, who missed the whole season due to an ACL injury suffered over the summer, got in for the final 20.5 seconds and even attempted a few 3-pointers. Couldn’t get them to fall, but a fun moment as the seniors finish out their careers on the floor. pic.twitter.com/rjCARFKEzE— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 27, 2021
“Man, I’m proud of them,” Schreiber said. “Even though things weren't totally going our way, they never let up.
“The struggles they’ve gone through over the last year and change, no high school student should have to go through that. They missed out on a lot. The fact that we could get them to this section championship game, and experience that super high level of basketball, is awesome.”
Alongside Pemberton, Bolte tallied 12 points and Wade 11. Wade, in the final game of her career, finished the season with double-digit points in every game this season. She graduates alongside Emma Huberty, Lydia Ryan and Jones.
Horn led all scorers with 19, while Jaya Hatlestad had 12 for the Cardinals.
And while the Lumberjacks were denied their sixth section championship, Alexandria is marching on with their 11th. Hall of Fame head coach Wendy Kohler has been there since the very first in 1988.
“She does it the right way,” Schreiber said. “She coaches them the right way, and she turns those girls into really strong young women. That’s the goal.”
While BHS won’t walk out with a title for itself, Bemidji has its sights set on bigger things long-term.
“We’re really getting a good experience because they’re a super good team, and their program has been good for years now,” Pemberton said of Alexandria. “This is just pushing us to be a better program each year and build on it every year after this.”
No. 1 Alexandria 67, No. 3 Bemidji 53
BHS 24 29 -- 53
ALX 30 37 -- 67
BEMIDJI (10-11) -- Pemberton 16, Bolte 12, Wade 11, Milbrandt 7, Hildenbrand 3, Tatro 3, Huberty 1.
ALEXANDRIA (18-4) -- Horn 19, Hatlestad 12, Jones 10, Hoelscher 9, Bloom 7, Strand 6, Kremer 2, Scholl 2.