MOORHEAD — The most intense rivalry in the Heart O’ Lakes Conference plays nightcap to today’s Section 8AA South Subsection semifinals when the Perham Yellowjackets and No. 8-2A Pelican Rapids Vikings square off for the season rubber match with one team’s season in peril at 7:45 p.m.
Two streaking teams in the Barnesville Trojans and No. 2-2A Hawley Nuggets will kickstart play starting at 6 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium on the campus of Concordia College.
Barnesville has won 10 straight games since an 85-72 loss to the Nuggets January 31. Hawley has swept their schedule since their only loss of the season in double overtime to the Yellowjackets, 69-67 on January 8.
Perham and Pelican Rapids split the season series with wins on home courts. Pelican defeated the Jackets 53-40 early in the season December 14. Perham won on KLN Court by the same score January 25. The difference in today’s game is the Vikings are playing banged up.
Ryan Bruggeman recently returned from a high ankle sprain uniting with Tucker Forsgren, putting Pelican’s two most potent scorers back on the floor for the first time since a February 8 loss at East Grand Forks. However, Forsgren left Thursday’s game with an injury to his knee. Forsgren is questionable for tonight’s game.
The two-time defending Subsection and Section champion Yellowjackets are in typical form holding six of their last seven opponents to 41 points or less. Defense has been the major factor in two seasons of playoff dominance for Perham.
“Defense wins championships,” Perham senior guard Jake Anderson said after the opening round blowout of Frazee.
The Jackets held Frazee to less than 15 points in both halves of the victory.
“We’re going to have to play defense to win the game,” said Anderson. “It’s all about defense.”
All four teams had an easy time with the first round with each club winning by at least 20 points.
Three of the four teams feature a specific top duo in scoring: Barnesville will count on junior guard Michael Strand and senior Austin Martz; senior Devon Pekas and sophomore forward Ben Ellefson will undoubtedly get their points for Hawley and Pelican can only hope to have Bruggeman and Forsgren reunited.
Perham features a lineup seven-deep in terms of potential leading scorers and has found success all season when taking advantage of what opposing defenses allow. Perham has also been shut down, albeit infrequently, specifically by half-court zones, in key losses on the road at Pelican and at Hawley.
Perham can also abuse a zone. Anderson leads a quartet of sharpshooters from outside in Tyler Glines, Eli Beachy and Josh Nordick. Each of the four has lit up the scoreboard on hot shooting nights. Glines and Beachy have also proven they can slash the baseline and through the paint for points.
Of the four teams, Perham plays at a height disadvantage but senior Jordan Hein and junior Hunter Salathe have proven they can dominate down low when called upon. If Forsgren is unable to play, both should have a far easier look at points in the paint.
Travis Haugen filled in for Forsgren and scored a season-high 20 points Thursday, so the Vikings will remain dangerous, despite potentially being shorthanded.
Perham also has collective advantage in mindset with two straight trips to the state tournament, including a state title. The Jackets have a seasoned lineup and bench in the know on what it takes to win big games on neutral courts.
Hawley is looking for the season sweep of Barnesville, a team that has played them tough losing by eight and 13 points in Hawley’s two victories. The Trojans have been surging since their win at Perham the first week of February.
"Hopefully, they're going to take this game and learn from it and take it and run," Trojans’ Head Coach Todd Henrickson said after that victory.
That is exactly what Barnesville has done and an upset of the No. 2 team in Class 2A is not out of the cards for the Trojans. The axiom it is never easy to beat a team three times is in full effect in the 6 p.m. game.
Pekas and Ellefson will pose a difficult defensive test for the Trojans and the Nuggets have plenty of height on their side allowing for interior dominance that has led to a 24-1 season record.
If Perham’s win over Hawley is the only blueprint to defeating the favored Nuggets, Strand and Martz are going to need their fellow teammates to step up.
Perham defeated Hawley with consistent scoring from the starting lineup. Glines, Salathe and Nordick led Perham, all scoring 14 points. Beachy scored 13, including four buckets from behind the arc. Hein scored a dozen.
With plenty of big men to spare, Hawley can sit in their 1-3-1 zone and keep offenses at bay. A balanced attack from all areas of the offensive side of the court is mandatory for any team to play with the Nuggets.
“They are starting to work together, and people are starting to get involved besides Ellefson and Pekas,” Perham Head Coach Dave Cresap said after an 18-point defeat at Hawley.
Cresap has kept a positive message in the locker room inciting his team to have fun on the court and play relaxed and effective. Perham has overcome hardships, multiple overtimes and huge games on the biggest courts in the state of Minnesota en route to being the best team in Section 8AA for two straight years.
“Don't count us out in March when we get things going,” he said.
March Madness is here and tonight’s doubleheader should be the most intense pair of basketball games in the region so far this season.
Live online coverage will be available from both games tonight on the Focus Sports Twitter feed @PerhamSports beginning at 6 p.m.
Lakes Radio (99.5) will have radio coverage and an online audio feed will be available on their website of the Perham/Pelican game.
KRJB, 106.5, out of Ada will carry the Barnesville/Hawley game. A live stream is available on their website.
The following Subsection final next Tuesday and the Section final next Friday will be televised on Forum Communications’ WDAY, channel 6 (Arvig Communications).