Bemidji girls basketball shook off recent second-half struggles to turn a four-point halftime lead into a 44-31 win against Brainerd on Friday at the Bemidji High School Fieldhouse for its first Section 8AAAA victory of the season.
The Jacks and Warriors both entered Friday’s game with similar profiles in recent weeks: struggling offenses accompanied by stingy defenses. Both traits were on display during the opening three minutes of the game as neither team scored a field goal until Mya Vincent’s running layup put Bemidji on the board.
Beth Bolte later increased the Jacks’ early lead to four with a three from well beyond the arc.
Each team ran into problems taking care of the ball during the first half to further deepen the offensive woes they were encountering. One such Brainerd turnover allowed Brynn Peterson to turn the steal into a transition layup.
The Warriors proceeded to piece together four straight points that gave them a slender lead, but Josey LaValley restored Bemidji’s advantage by knocking down a three in the corner.
Vincent capped an 18-14 halftime lead for the Lumberjacks by attacking inside for a basket that would become an old-fashioned three-point play.
The second half opened with a much quicker scoring pace from the two teams. After Brainerd pulled within one, Bolte finished off a quick break of the Warriors’ full-court press and Katelyn Milbrandt connected on a triple to extend the lead to six.
Three-point shooting came up large for the Lumberjacks midway through the half in helping push the lead into an even greater margin. LaValley dropped in a jumper from the wing after Brainerd had moved within three, and Bolte was on the mark again from outside to force a timeout with the Jacks ahead 32-23.
Brainerd’s last surge of hope came with a 5-0 run after the timeout, but the run ended with Clara Bieber hitting the latest three-pointer for the Jacks.
Early foul trouble had left Gracee Bieber on the bench for most of the first half, but the senior forward made her mark in the final stages of the second with a series of winning plays. Bieber used a quick post move to send the Lumberjacks’ lead into double figures before she later converted four free throws and pulled in a series of offensive rebounds to help Bemidji squeeze the final minutes of the game.
The Lumberjacks outscored Brainerd 26-17 after halftime, forcing a total of 21 Warrior turnovers. Bolte led all in scoring with 12 points while Gracee Bieber posted all nine of her points in the second half.
Bemidji (6-9) will stay home to host Duluth East on Thursday at 7pm.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Darin Schultz: