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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Bracket-busting Beavers: Bemidji State shocks CSP with 73-70 playoff upset

ST. PAUL -- The Bemidji State women's basketball team cared not for brackets on Wednesday. With a season-best performance, the eighth-seeded Beavers pulled off a bracket-busting 73-70 upset over top-seeded Concordia-St. Paul in the opening round ...

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Bemidji State sophomore Maria Appicelli (right) celebrates with the Beavers after a 73-70 upset over Concordia-St. Paul on Wednesday in St. Paul. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)

ST. PAUL -- The Bemidji State women’s basketball team cared not for brackets on Wednesday.

With a season-best performance, the eighth-seeded Beavers pulled off a bracket-busting 73-70 upset over top-seeded Concordia-St. Paul in the opening round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament in St. Paul, good for their first playoff victory since 2004.

“Cinderella stories are fun, but they don’t happen by wishing and praying,” BSU head coach Chelsea DeVille said. “You have to go out and fight. And boy did we do that.”

Down by three in the final seconds, CSP standout Anna Schmitt pulled up for a game-tying 3-point attempt from 30 feet out. The shot bounced off the iron and fell into the hands of Sydney Zerr, who dribbled out the time and sent Bemidji State into jubilation.

“We were all just filled with so much joy,” sophomore Taylor Bray said. “We weren’t in shock, because we worked for it. But at the same time, we were just speechless. We all wanted to celebrate with each other, and I think that was a big thing. … Everyone had faith in each other.”

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BSU fended off a fourth-quarter push from the Golden Bears for the win, but beforehand, they had to claw back from an early deficit.

Trinity Myer stepped up to keep the Beavers (6-21) in contention in the first quarter. Late in the frame, she snagged a steal in transition and took it the other way for a layup to bring Bemidji State within 11-10.

Concordia-St. Paul (21-7) responded with the next nine points before Claire Wolhowe drained a corner three at the buzzer for a 20-13 game after one quarter.

Though BSU’s offense stalled a bit in the second, its defense anticipated a number of CSP passes and came up with enough stops to hang close.

Molly Wenner then knocked down two pivotal threes for BSU late in the second quarter, the latter keeping the Beavers within one possession at 30-27. The Golden Bears followed with seven of the next nine points, however, taking a 37-29 advantage into halftime.

“When we did go through lulls, we had to get rolling with a shot or a solid play and keep going with that,” sophomore Maria Appicelli said. “That really gave us the momentum to keep us going and come out with the W.”

Bemidji State took its first lead on an Appicelli triple midway through the third, and she then added a second straight for a 47-43 advantage. Concordia-St. Paul scored the next eight, but BSU was still within 52-49 after three.

The Beavers shot out with a 13-3 run to open the final frame, where a Brooklyn Bachmann layup put Bemidji State in a 62-55 lead.

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Schmitt looked poised to take back the night when she netted back-to-back and-one layups to bring the Golden Bears within 64-63 with 2 minutes, 35 seconds to play. But Appicelli answered with a 3-pointer for another much-needed answer.

Two defensive stops gave the Beavers an inch of breathing room, but after BSU went 4-for-6 from the free-throw line over the final 22.7 seconds, Schmitt still had a chance for the tie just before the buzzer.

“That pull-up three from 30 is something I’ve seen (Schmitt) make so many times, so I was about ready to throw up when she let go of it,” DeVille said. “Syd dribbled that thing out, and you finally saw the red lights and (heard) the horn. Seeing the kids’ reaction, I’m excited for them.”

Bemidji State erupted into jubilation with a win that snapped an eight-game losing streak and a playoff-win drought of 14 years.

“That was really exciting, seeing everyone so happy,” Appicelli said. “We went into the locker room, and right when DeVille walked in, we started spraying our water bottles everywhere. That was really fun to see everyone jumping around and having a good time.”

Appicelli led the Beavers with 15 points, while Bachmann (13), Bray (13) and Myer (12) all hit double figures, as well. Schmitt poured in 31 points for Concordia-St. Paul.

“It gives me goosebumps,” Bray said of the win. “I get so excited. I think, as a program, we’re really making steps. Our record might not show it, but as a team -- the way we play and the way we mesh -- it shows.”

Bemidji State will look for another upset in the conference quarterfinals against St. Cloud State at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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“It means a lot to me, coming in here and trying to create a better program,” Appicelli said of the win. “I gave it my all and everyone gave it their all. Knowing that we did it (is special). We get to advance and hopefully we play well at the Pentagon.”

No. 8 Bemidji State 73, No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul 70
BSU 13 16 20 24 -- 73
CSP 20 17 15 18 -- 70
BEMIDJI STATE (6-21) -- Appicelli 15, Bachmann 13, Bray 13, Myer 12, Rappe 8, Wenner 6, Wolhowe 3, S. Zerr 3, Gartner 0, Vold 0. Totals 24-56, 13-17, 73.
CONCORDIA-ST. PAUL (21-7) -- Schmitt 31, Dorr 14, Fredenburg 9, Wentland 7, Lee 4, Lemke 2, Wheatcraft 2, DuBois 1, Schaub 0. Totals 23-56, 20-24, 70.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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