With the Section 8AAA playoffs a week away, Bemidji girls basketball entered the postseason with a thrilling 65-60 victory in overtime over Moorhead on Thursday at the Bemidji High School Fieldhouse, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Spuds.
A night that was special for many different reasons got the perfect finish from the Lumberjacks in the extra session. Free throws from Taylor Wade and Katie Alto–who earned them after a critical steal on defense–pulled Bemidji ahead for good in the final minute of overtime to secure Bemidji’s first win against Moorhead since Feb. 2013.
With the Jacks playing in their final regular season home game, they prepared a special moment in pregame for senior Jenna Jones. Out for much of the season recovering from a concussion sustained in the first game of the season, Jones was given final honors in the pregame starting lineup with her teammates and coaches all wearing sunglasses like the ones she has worn at home games for much of the year. After Bemidji won the opening tip, Jones was substituted to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Bemidji started slowly on offense, trailing 10-4 in the early going. After trimming down the early deficit, the long-range shooting of Lindsey Hildenbrand helped the Jacks to tie the game at 14.
Katie Alto and Hildenbrand both found the mark from downtown later as the Lumberjacks nudged into a small lead.
At the other end of the floor, the challenge for the Jacks was to respond to Moorhead’s physicality–something head coach Steve Schreiber felt the team needed to be ready for entering the upcoming section playoffs. The team responded with tough rebounding and blocks as well, with both Taylor Wade and Jackie Johnson coming up with rejections in the first half.
A late runner from Samantha Zimmerman gave Moorhead a 30-24 lead at the break, but Bemidji started strong with a 5-0 early in the second half. Hildenbrand again played a big role, later making a three that gave Bemidji the lead back after a series of ties.
Finishing strong through contact throughout the night, the senior guard earned layups that drew fouls during the night, making all three free throws that came with them. The third was part of a lead-building stretch with under ten minutes to go.
After some outstanding defense at one end from Ashley Hofstad, it was Hildenbrand who finished it at the other end, allowing the Spuds’ Rylie Polomny to race past before flipping in a layup.
Bemidji built up a 51-44 lead with five minutes to go and had a 57-52 advantage with less than two minutes to go. But thanks to a three-point play from Polomny and two free throws from Zimmerman–both following Bemidji turnovers–Moorhead tied the game with 30 seconds to play. A third turnover followed from the Lumberjacks on a travel along the sideline, but Kylie Dumas’ contested three fell short at the buzzer and left the game tied at 57.
Overtime opened without any scoring in the first minute, but after Hofstad missed a pair of free throws, the Jacks kept the possession alive for Emily Wade to drain a baseline jumper.
Samantha Hulst answered with a three at the other end, but the Spuds would not score the rest of overtime. Hildenbrand came back by weaving her way inside for another layup to give Bemidji the lead for good.
A huge chance to take the lead came Moorhead’s way when Zimmerman was fouled with under a minute remaining. After making all six of her free throws previously, the Spud junior missed both, though Moorhead pulled out an offensive rebound. A corner three from Hulst missed short and Taylor Wade was on hand for an important rebound.
Wade knocked down both free throws to push the lead to 63-60, though Moorhead would have the ball with a chance to tie. With under 10 seconds remaining, Alto bolted into a passing lane beyond the perimeter to ice the game with a steal.
The senior dropped in both of her free throws as well to wrap up the win for the Lumberjacks, sending them into the Section 8AAA playoffs with a 17-8 record.
Another special moment took place during halftime of the game, as Bemidji assistant coach Zach McDermott took to the public address microphone to share about a fundraising initiative the team had taken part in during the season. The team had an opportunity early in the year to hear from BHS alum Megan Comfort, a former player under McDermott from several years prior. Part of the message centered around Comfort’s daughter Jane, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and given only about two years to live.
Inspired by Jane’s story, the Jacks started a “Charges For Jane” initiative to collect pledges for every charge drawn during the season. It was announced that the team had taken 16 charges in the regular season, raising over $2,000. With Jane’s third birthday tomorrow, the team presented her with a gift and sang “Happy Birthday” for her on the court.
Bemidji announces that the team has raised nearly $2,000 for Jane Comfort, a 2-year-old in Bemidji with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The team fundraised through pledges for each charge they take, and they’ve taken 16 this season. Jane’s mom, Megan, is a BHS girls basketball alum. pic.twitter.com/rZvUHIvE8L
— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) February 21, 2020
The Lumberjacks will learn their seeding for the Section 8AA playoffs on Sunday, with Bemidji essentially locked into the #2 seed. The quarterfinals will be played next Thursday with the top four seeds hosting games.
Special postgame interview with Bemidji senior Jenna Jones:
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber: