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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Kate Hildenbrand, Bemidji score landmark win over rival Alexandria

Monday’s win was a major turnaround from the status quo. The Cardinals had won 13 straight games against Bemidji -- by an average margin of 20.2 points -- in a run that included the latest two Section 8-3A championship games. But BHS earned its first victory over Alexandria since 2013 in style.

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Bemidji senior Kate Hildenbrand (14) and the Jacks celebrate after defeating Alexandria 51-49 on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- With chaos overflowing all around her, Kate Hildenbrand called for the ball.

“They really tried to guard my other teammates more, which gave me more of the open looks,” the Bemidji High School girls basketball senior said. “I had a little more confidence this game, and after making a few, I just kept shooting.”

Hildenbrand took over late in Monday’s messy game against Alexandria inside the BHS Gymnasium, going on a clean 6-0 run all by herself as the catalyst of the Lumberjacks’ 51-49 rivalry win.

“The dominance that Kate went on in the last three minutes in the post, that’s… refusing to lose the basketball game,” Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber said. “I really think that’s how she saw it: ‘It’s my time. We need to win this game, and I’m going to be the one who does it.’”

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Bemidji senior Kate Hildenbrand (14) scores to put the Jacks up 48-46 over Alexandria in the second half on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BHS trailed 46-42 with three minutes to go. Jody Pemberton drove and dished to Hildenbrand for a quick two, and on the next possession, Hildenbrand scored from the block again to tie the game.

As “Defense! Defense!” chants rang out from the crowd, the Jacks (4-4) appeased the fans with the steal they wanted. And it set up a smooth Hildenbrand post move for the go-ahead bucket off an entry pass from Beth Bolte.

“Kate’s really worked hard this year on post stuff,” Schreiber said. “She looked up at the scoreboard and was like, ‘You know what, somebody needs to score. And if they’re going to let me post up, I’m going to get the ball and I’m going to do it.’”

Hildenbrand’s go-ahead score came with 1:16 to go. Jackie Johnson added three free throws down the stretch for a five-point lead, and Allie Haabala’s last-second 3-pointer for Alexandria merely put a harmless dent in the final score.

Any way you slice it, Monday’s two-point win was a major turnaround from the status quo. The Cardinals (4-5) had won 13 straight games against Bemidji -- by an average margin of 20.2 points -- in a run that included the latest two Section 8-3A championship games. But BHS earned its first victory over Alexandria since 2013 in style.

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Bemidji junior Beth Bolte (23) scores a 3-pointer in the second half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“They’ve always been our big rival,” Hildenbrand said. “We’ve been trying hard to beat them, and we were really hoping this year. And we pulled through. (It felt) bigger than most wins just because it was a hard team and we fought hard.”

The first half was not a pretty one, but the Lumberjacks still managed an 18-18 tie going into the break. Oddly enough, each team had a stretch spanning 6:22 without a point during the low-scoring affair.

Things heated up a bit in the second half, but the Cardinals always seemed to be on the brink of running away with the win. Yet Bemidji kept within striking distance down to the final minutes, and Hildenbrand did the rest.

“We know that the games we play won’t be pretty,” Schreiber said. “But we’re asking to hang tight with them for the first three quarters of the game, and then we want to step up and win the game in those last five minutes. These girls are buying in to that.”

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The Lumberjack bench erupts after senior Kate Hildenbrand (14) scored late in the second half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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Hildenbrand finished with a career-high 17 points, while Johnson added 15 and Bolte 10.

Haabala poured in 18 for the Cardinals alongside 10 from Hadley Thul. The pair accounted for two of the three freshmen in Alexandria’s starting lineup.

“These girls have lost to them every step of the way -- two section championship games,” Schreiber said. “For us to get a little bit of solace beating them on our home court, in front of a home crowd, it’s just a big thing.”

The schedule resumes for Bemidji at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, at Sauk Rapids-Rice.

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Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber hosts a timeout late in the second half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji 51, Alexandria 49

ALX 18 31 -- 49

BHS 18 33 -- 51

ALEXANDRIA (4-5) -- Haabala 18, Thul 10, Linow 9, Scholl 4, Steussy 4, Heydt 2, McGrane 2.

BEMIDJI (4-4) -- Hildenbrand 17, Johnson 15, Bolte 10, Pemberton 4, Milbrandt 3, Bieber 2.

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and 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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