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Perham girls erase deficit, secure home win

Grace Steichen, left, and Allie Critchley, right, trap Serena Langen in the corner as she finds a teammate in the first half. Jason Groth/FOCUS

The Perham Yellowjackets used a trio of key plays in the closing seconds, earning a 65-64 victory over the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Rebels in Perham on Feb. 23.

Jadyn Benedict hit a corner 3-pointer, giving Perham its first lead since early in the second half. After a stop, the Yellowjackets got the ball back, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. On the ensuing rebound, Serena Langen tracked the ball down in the corner and was fouled. She calmly sank both free throws, stretching the lead to five. Rae Critchley drilled a 3-pointer for DGF, making it a two point game, but Janie Wunderlich sank a free throw and tight defense prevented the Rebels from attempting a game-tying three in the final three seconds.

“I’m really happy with how the girls played. We came out with a lot of intensity, after our Pelican Rapids game, that was the one thing I thought we were lacking,” Perham head coach T.J. Super said. “The girls came out with fire, intensity and we jumped on them. You know against a team like DGF, it won’t be over in the first 10 minutes and of course it wasn’t. They went into a zone and we had been playing well against it lately, but it flummoxed us for a little bit. We made some real nice plays and the girls stepped up and made some shots.”

Janie Wunderlich drives to the basket for two.

The Yellowjackets had four players finish in double figures with Wunderlich leading the way with 18 points. Gabby DeBoer added 15, while Josie Beachy finished with 14 points. Benedict finished with 10 points.

However, it was their defense in the closing moments that played a key role in the comeback for the Yellowjackets. Perham led by eight after a fast paced first half. Yet, the Rebels came out strong in the second half, led by the duo of Jena Jacobson and Natalie Steichen. Jacobson finished with 16 points, while Steichen added 17. Yet, the defense of the Yellowjackets stymied them down the stretch.

“On the defensive end, we did a real nice job. Benedict took a charge and stopped one of their drives,” Super said. “On their last possession when it was a tie game, we forced Steichen into a travel with help defense. There were three girls there and they were all straight up. Those two defensive possessions epitomized what it takes to come back when you are behind.”

However, the Yellowjackets were slowed in the early portions of the second half, allowing the Rebels to overcome an eight point deficit and turning it into a 10 point lead.

It was a trio of seniors coming up big for the Yellowjackets, helping them erase that deficit in the second half. Beachy started the run, hitting a 3-pointer, which was followed by a basket from sophomore Mesa Schultz. Wunderlich cut the lead to four, 58-54. A free throw by DGF was answered by a 3-pointer from Benedict, cutting the lead to two. Beachy followed with a drive to the basket, evening the game at 59.

Perham moved the ball around in the closing minute, finding Benedict in the corner. She launched and connected on her third 3-pointer of the half, giving Perham the 62-59 lead.

Serena Langen directs the ball from DGF's Grace Steichen.

“We had set up to run a play and we weren’t going to run it for the last shot of the game. On the play that we were running, Benedict was one of our secondary options for the 3-pointer. They came out in zone and when they are in the 1-3-1, we want to attack those corners,” Super said. “Benedict had already hit a couple, so she was in rhythm. She is a pretty streaky shooter that way. Evidently, she felt it and let it go. When it goes in, it’s just the best shot in the world.”

After a missed free throw, Langen’s key rebound and pair of free throws, brought the lead to five. Yet, DGF would not go away. Rae Critchley hit a 3-pointer, making it a 64-62 ball game. Wunderlich hit a free throw, making it a 3-point game, but Perham clamped down, not allowing a 3-point attempt. The shot came from inside the arc and was short, but the put back was good, for the final score of the game.

“There are a couple of moments in the game that I talked about in the locker room, but of course, there are a lot of plays made in the game by a lot of girls. Benedict taking the charge and Langen, who got into foul trouble and didn’t play as much as she normally does, comes off the bench in a tough spot,” Super said. “She has hit free throws down the stretch lately and made a lot of big plays. We put her in there and she goes and gets that offensive rebound, gets fouled and makes two free throws. Those two plays are the epitome of what it takes to win a game. Our girls did a lot of those things as well as many of the other girls did as well.”

The Yellowjackets improve to 18-7 overall and 9-3 in the Heart O’Lakes Conference. The victory secures second place in the conference for the Yellowjackets and completes the regular season sweep of the Rebels.

The Yellowjackets close out the regular season on Friday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. against Thief River Falls at the PWMS gymnasium.

Jadyn Benedict looks for a pass in the second half.

DGF 27 37--64

PER 35 30--65

DGF-Jena Jacobson 16, Natalie Steichen 17, Katlyn Brenna 9, Rae Critchley 4, Grace Steichen 9, Shelby Mullikin 6, Allie Critchley 3

3-point goals-Jacobson, Brenna 2, R. Critchley, A. Critchley

PER-Josie Beachy 14, Serena Langen 2, Jadyn Benedict 10, Gabby DeBoer 15, Janie Wunderlich 18, Mesa Schultz 4, Sara Herrmann 2

3-point goals-Beachy 2, Benedict 3, DeBoer

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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