MOORHEAD — After two huge victories in the Subsection semis and finals over arch rivals Pelican Rapids and Hawley, the Perham Yellowjackets pursuit of a third consecutive Section 8AA championship and trip to the state tournament rests on the outcome of Friday night’s rematch with the Crosby-Ironton Rangers at Concordia College.
Memorial Auditorium has been as effective as a home court for the Yellowjackets during their three-year run. Perham has an undefeated, playoff record of 4-0 at Concordia during that span. Perham is 22-7 this season and have won eight of the past nine games, including a streak of four straight, including removing the No. 2 and No. 8 ranked teams from the playoffs.
Crosby-Ironton is streaking and have won 16 straight pushing their mid-season record of 8-4 to 22-4. Perham ended Hawley’s 17-game win streak in the Subsection final. The Rangers have not played a ranked team this season and Perham, which has been unranked all year, will be the stiffest competition seen by the Rangers so far.
The two teams squared off early in the season with Perham defending home court against the Rangers 65-44 December 10.
Rangers’ head coach Dave Galovich, in his 36th year, has plenty of experience to bring a stiff test to Perham head coach Dave Cresap and the Yellowjackets. Galovich has an all-time record of 595-286, including recent trips to the state tournament with runners-up finishes in 2008 and 2010. The Rangers will be prepared to play.
Like the Nuggets Ben Ellefson, Crosby-Ironton also features an athletic sophomore in center Daniel Hudrlik. Hudrlik was held to a dozen points by Perham in their December match-up. Hudrlik scored 24 to lead the Rangers to the Subsection Championship in C-I’s 57-36 victory over Warroad. Riley Jacobs was the only other Ranger in double figures scoring 11.
Perham’s defensive task will be rather simple: stop Hudrlik and force the rest of the Rangers to put up points. This should pose a much more feasible defensive strategy than keeping the likes of Tucker Forsgren, Ryan Bruggeman, Ellefson, Devon Pekas and the array of offensive talents of Perham’s past two opponents in check.
While the Rangers cannot be overlooked, they are a far less dangerous opponent than the two Perham has battled through to reach the Section Final. Hudrlik will get his chances in the paint, but will find scoring a far more difficult task against a team that has battled relentlessly for rebounds and dominated bigger players in the paint of late.
Shooting woes affected the Rangers in the team’s only matchup this season and Perham took advantage. Crosby-Ironton shot 38 percent from the field. Perham was 25-42 making nearly 60 percent of their shots. Perham's 10 percent shooting from three-point land (2-20) kept the game from being an even bigger disparity in score.
"We really played our hearts out the whole game," Head Coach Dave Cresap said after that game. "We didn't miss a loose ball."
Now that March has arrived, that intensity has grown exponentially.
“We played Perham really early in the season,” Hudrlik told the Brainerd Dispatch’s Jeremy Millsop after the victory over Warraod. “We weren’t the best, but we’re better now.”
Unfortunately, for the Rangers, the Yellowjackets are also a long way from that early December win. A team that has not been expected to win the past two games has proven they had the confidence to do so and now enter a game they should win at a season-high level of composure and aplomb.
“Our whole team was ready to go,” Cresap said after the victory over Hawley.
The swagger and self-assurance of defending the Section title and the state tournament berth has been apparent on the floor for Perham.
In their 18-point loss at Hawley, their worst of the season, the Yellowjackets were out of synch and unable to run their offense.
Since then, Perham has taken strides to dictate play and in the playoffs looked like the same team that has gone to state two years in a row. The only difference, is those players are now in the stands cheering post-graduation and other than Hein and Nordick, Perham has a whole set of new players doing what Perham does this time of year.
That is: win playoff games no matter who is on the other side of the court.
In the Section Final, Perham will have to shoot themselves in the foot to not advance. Sophomore Hudrlik will have to have an all-world performance. On paper, the game might be close for a half, but Perham fans should have an enjoyable second half preparing for another trip to the Twin Cities.
A Perham victory will be the tenth state tournament appearance for a Yellowjacket team this year. Basketball will follow the football team, both the boys and girls cross country teams, the wrestling team and individuals, the gymnastics team and individuals, along with the girls and boys individual swimming championships.
With the recent hockey tournament creating a buzz about the dominance of certain private schools, Perham is proving domination can come from the public sector, as well. The Yellowjacket propensity for making big time appearances on the biggest stages should again be dictated in Perham style Friday night.
Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Concordia in Moorhead. Weather has been impolite to day trip travelers the past two Concordia nights and the forecast is equally treacherous for Friday.
In a late announcement Thursday, the Perham basketball team was named the State Academic Champions. This is the second consecutive year the team has earned the accolade.