Perham to make first ever state tournament appearance
MOORHEAD--Perham pride and Jacket fever rippled through Concordia College's Memorial Auditorium as the Yellowjackets boys basketball team (28-1) counted down the final seconds to a 55-44 Section 8AA championship victory and the school's first ever trip to the state tournament.
Led by monster efforts from Mark Schumacher and Jordan Bruhn, the Yellowjackets controlled a tightly contested ball game seeing an early 20-8 lead dissipate as the Thief River Falls Prowlers (21-8) hung tight with the inspired Yellowjackets.
Season success and the fulfillment of a year-long goal hung in the balance of this result and over all of that was the need to win the championship for both themselves and the community, but most importantly, for Zach Gabbard.
"Everything was for him, number three," Schumacher said. "I'm probably going to start crying when I see him. It's unbelievable."
Schumacher led Perham recording a double-double scoring 14 points with 10 rebounds. He also blocked seven shots at decisive moments of the contest and found a way to be in the right spot at the right time whenever Perham needed it.
"That's just one of those skills I picked up and is just another part of my game now," Schumacher said of the seven blocks.
Winners of 16-straight games, the team's string of victories has been monothematic, centered solely on the struggles and recovery of their missing teammate.
Each of those victories has had multiple heroes and each night any of the top seven Yellowjackets are capable of putting Gabbard's number three on their chest and making the plays necessary to win.
"When (Gabbard) went down we could have fallen apart and maybe not had a chance to win more games," Head Coach Dave Cresap said. "But the kids and I got together and I said, 'I'll lead you through this the best I can' and they caught on and grabbed on and followed me and here we are."
Where they are exactly is a few days away from the long-awaited reunion with Gabbard that has been on hold in the most tenuous of manners since late January.
"This is what (Zach) needed too," Schumacher said. "When (Coach) Cresap said we're going to come down there and meet you in the barn, (Zach) had a smile from ear to ear and you could not get rid of that thing. It was unbelievable."
However, the Thief River Falls Prowlers came to play and showed little sympathy off the opening tip jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 4-2 on a nice baseline jump hook by Jaylon Gunderson and a floater in the lane by Ralph Williams.
That's when Schumacher swooped in to grab momentum. He made a strong move to the basket sinking a lay-up while fouled. He pumped his fist and stepped to the free throw line to put the Yellowjackets up 5-4. Their lead would be threatened multiple times but Perham would not trail again.
After stopping the Prowlers on the next possession, Schumacher sprinted ahead of everyone on the court and Bruhn laced a perfect pass to him for an easy two.
Bruhn drained a three-pointer; Schumacher cleaned up the boards on a Jordan Cresap shot that was deflected stretching the lead to 12-6.
Bruhn struck again hitting Stratton this time, sprinting ahead of the field for a bucket and a foul for a 15-6 lead.
Bruhn showcased his passing ability all game long. Most, if not all of his seven assists were highlight worthy.
Nick Tobkin got involved scoring five straight points on a three-ball and a jump shot to send the Prowlers to a timeout down a dozen early, 20-8.
"We've all been wanting this since the beginning of the summer," Tobkin said. "We knew we just had to get there for Gabby."
The Yellowjacket lead could have been 25-8 as Perham failed to convert three free throws and a lay-up, allowing the Prowlers a bit of breathing room.
The Prowlers went on an 8-4 run to trail Perham 24-16 at the half.
Bruhn almost had a repeat of his halftime buzzer magic versus Pequot Lakes, where he drained a long three as the buzzer sounded. This time, his heave came from behind half-court and it was dead on landing on the back of the iron. Had it gone in, it may have blown the roof off an already frenzied building.
"I thought both teams played really hard," TRF Head Coach Chris McLean said at the break. "We just can't score and that's a credit to Perham. We have to find somebody to make a basket."
Prowler center Jonathan Milks led all scorers with 16 points and he led a Prowler run out of the locker room sinking a long three point shot from well beyond the top of the key.
Schumacher cut into the momentum sinking a 16-footer but Phillip Onkka knocked down a three to cut the Perham lead to four, 26-22.
A Gunderson put back rolled off the front of the rim as Stratton fouled him. Gunderson sank both freebies to cut the lead to a deuce, 26-24.
Schumacher again put a stop to the bleeding, following his own miss and sticking the third foul on Gunderson sending him to the bench. Soon, Schumacher, playing with two fouls, would find himself in foul trouble and on the bench, as well.
The Prowlers got two chances to tie or take the lead but Onkka threw the ball away on the first possession and the Yellowjackets swarmed to defend a second attempt.
Jacob Beito drove the ball to the basket but Schumacher swatted the attempt away. A Jordan Cresap three-pointer bumped the lead to five. Schumacher then stuffed Nathan Hruby near the hoop.
Schumacher was all over the place.
Milks drew Schumacher's third foul at the 11-minute mark. Onkka scored, but Schumacher ran the floor for an easy bucket. Perham led 31-27.
On the next possession and away from the ball, Schumacher was called for holding and his fourth foul at 10:33. That sent the big man to the bench.
Stratton stepped up in Schumacher's absence, much like he did in the last playoff game, making a steal on the next possession, getting the ball and flipping a perfect pass to a streaking Bruhn, who ended up at the line fouled on a lay-up.
Bruhn made the first, missed the second, but Mike Wiskow tipped the rebound to Bruhn, who returned the favor, passing it back to Wiskow, who drew the fourth foul on Prowler big man Gunderson, evening the match-up of big men down low.
It was Wiskow's time to put the superhero number three on his chest. He made one free throw, and then raced back on defense to draw a charging call on Williams to get the ball back in Jacket hands.
Even with Schumacher out of the game, the Perham offensive machine kept on chugging along.
Bruhn hit Stratton out of a timeout and the lead was eight, 35-27. Stratton had 12 points.
Perham then held the ball for 40 seconds running their motion offense before Stratton fed Wiskow in the paint to stretch the lead back to double digits, 37-27.
Milks kept the Prowlers in striking distance scoring back-to-back buckets, 37-31.
A Cresap three-ball from the corner pushed back, 40-31.
Stratton and Bruhn put on a clinic on how to pick and roll running a give and go to perfection: Bruhn hitting Stratton with a perfect lob for a lay-up.
Perham was on a 14-7 run.
If there was one chink in the Yellowjacket armor it was free throw shooting. Late in the game Perham was only 4-15 from the line. They finished the game 11-23.
Up seven, 42-35, Tobkin erased a shot by Williams and got the ball to Bruhn, who made another brilliant assist to Stratton, who finished the play and got fouled causing a fevered pitch and a thunderous uproar from the Perham faithful.
"We had a home court advantage with our fans," said Coach Cresap.
Gunderson and Schumacher played most of the last eight minutes with four fouls each.
Onkka and Hruby converted on successive trips to creep within five, 46-41.
Bruhn missed the front end of bonus free throws and another foul had TRF in the double bonus sending Tobkin to the line where he missed both attempts.
90 seconds to go, the Prowler press looked to trap the Jackets in the backcourt, eventually sending Tobkin back to the line. He drilled both free throws extending the lead to a three-possession game and after a Prowler turnover Bruhn laced a half-court pass to Stratton underneath to seal the game 50-41.
Schumacher wasn't done. He made another huge block and Bruhn drew a foul and free throws.
Milks cut the lead to seven with a three with 29 seconds remaining but TRF would get no closer.
"I feel so good for these kids," Coach Cresap said. "They're the best kids in the world and they've made me so much prouder and to do it for Zach, I'm just so happy for those kids."
"I can't believe it," Tobkin said.
"We had a guy on our back; and I really think that helped us." Coach Cresap said.
"Zach fought through everything; so we knew we could fight through anything to get down there and have him with us," said Bruhn.
"Those kids just amaze me," said Cresap. "They're so special to me and they know how much I love them and we'll just continue now to the cities and really enjoy this moment. It's kind of like a dream right now. I'm so happy for them and our community and I hope we represent Section 8 very well."
The defeat is the second straight section final loss for TRF. They were knocked out by Crosby-Ironton last season.
Perham moves on to face the winner of Section 7AA, Virginia. The Blue Devils defeated the #5 state-ranked Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels 51-46 in Duluth Saturday night for the right to face the Yellowjackets in the barn, Williams Arena, at the University of Minnesota. The game is slated for Wednesday, March 23 at 6 p.m.
Section 7AA is the final game to be decided before the state tournament. The other seven spots have been filled. Rochester Lourdes (1AA) will face Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (6AA). Redwood Valley (3A) takes on Minnehaha Academy (4A) at Target Center. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (2AA) will play Zimmerman (5A) in the nightcap at Williams Arena following Perham's game. The remainder of the championship games will be played at Target Center Friday and Saturday, March 25-26.
THIEF RIVER FALLS (21-8): Williams 2 1-2 5 Gunderson 2 2-2 6 Onkka 5 0-0 11 Beito 1 0-0 2 Milks 3 6-6 16 Trontvet 0 1-1 1 Hruby 1 1-2 3. Totals 15 11-13 44.
PERHAM (28-1): Schumacher 5 4-4 14 Tobkin 2 2-4 7 Bruhn 2 2-5 7 Stratton 5 2-5 12 Cresap 5 0-3 12 Wiskow 1 1-2 3 Hein 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-23 55.
Half: PHS 24, TRF 16. 3-point goals: Onkka, Milks 2, Tobkin, Bruhn, Cresap 2. Total fouls: TRF 18, PHS 12. Rebounds: TRF 29 (Onkka 10), PHS 31 (Schumacher 10). Assists: TRF 4 (Beito 2), PHS 10 (Bruhn 7). Turnovers: TRF 12, PHS 9.