On Tuesdays and Thursdays, KBUN Sportsradio presents a “Lumberjack Throwback”, as we recall a memorable Bemidji High School game from recent years through archived highlights and interviews. With Section basketball playoffs just a couple of weeks away, today we recall the end of Bemidji girls basketball’s wait for a playoff victory…
Bemidji entered the 2016-17 season coming off an 8-18 campaign the year prior that had ended with a first-round playoff loss for the fifth consecutive year. The new season also started with a new coach, as Steve Schreiber took the helm after several years with Menahga.
The Jacks’ opening game was a tall task: a road trip to the Brickhouse in Thief River Falls on Nov. 29 to face the defending Section 8AAA champion Prowlers, who had also finished third in Class AAA at state. Despite hanging around and making a late run, the Jacks’ offense could never get going in a 49-42 defeat.
The tables were turned several weeks later on Jan. 6, as the Lumberjacks picked up a signature 48-45 victory over TRF on home floor and cemented indications that the tide was turning on the season. The win was part of a stretch of six wins in seven games for Bemidji, though the Jacks would go 4-6 to end the regular season.
A 13-12 regular season landed Bemidji the #6 seed in the Section 8AAA playoffs and a quarterfinal date back in Thief River Falls on Feb. 28, 2017. The Prowlers had claimed the #3 seed with a 15-11 record and entered the playoffs winning four out of five games. They had also been tough to beat at home, going 9-2 at the Brickhouse–a place where Bemidji had not won since 2009.
But the Prowlers had injury problems, as two seniors and 6-foot-2-inch junior forward Tiahna Nicholson were all out for the quarterfinal due to various ailments.
Bemidji attacked the paint early, looking to exploit the missing post presence of Nicholson and get the Prowlers into foul trouble. By the halfway mark of the first half, Bemidji was into the double bonus on TRF fouls and was opening up lanes to attack players on multiple fouls.
Grace Naig took advantage of the Prowlers’ post adjustments to put together a strong offensive first half, including this bucket that was followed by a steal from Samantha Edlund as the Lumberjacks jumped to a 13-6 lead.
With high-scoring TRF guard Kylea Praska dealing with the tight defending of Hannah Willford, the rest of the Prowler offense struggled to get guard scoring in the first half and dealt with turnover problems in addition to the foul issues.
After a spell from Bemidji’s five-player “Chaos” unit, the starters returned and started to get the offense going. Rumer Flatness pulled up for a jumper from the free-throw line to put the Lumberjacks ahead 20-11.
TRF answered back with a 5-0 run, but Naig worked the offensive glass for a putback to stem the tide. That was followed by a pair of long-range shots from Flatness and Edlund to push the lead into double figures.
Into the final two minutes of the half, the lead only continued to grow. First, Laura Bieberdorf connected on a triple to continue the late-half barrage from downtown.
Just before the half, Naig capped off a 12-point performance in the first with one final weak-side layup, courtesy of an assist from Edlund, to make it 38-24 Bemidji at the break.
The second half was the Laura Bieberdorf show early on, as the senior fired in a pair of threes before scoring through contact later on to keep the lead in double figures.
Ciara Cermak added to the onslaught from three-point range, knocking down another trey for the visitors to keep the upset on the cards.
Naig kept things rolling from her great first half with more post scoring in the second as the Jacks iced the game away.
By the final few seconds, all of the noise in the Brickhouse was from the traveling Bemidji fans, as the 6-seed Lumberjacks closed out a 71-54 win to complete the upset and end their long wait for a Section playoff victory.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber:
Four days later, Bemidji’s playoff run was ended by #2 Sartell-St. Stephen in a 59-47 semifinal loss at Moorhead. The loss ended a 14-13 season that saw the team take big strides forward, including the playoff victory in Thief River Falls–setting the stage for future playoff successes.
COMING TUESDAY: The final before the final.