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Strand big in big-time ball game

Michael Strand found a way to lead the Trojans past Perham in the south subsection final Tuesday in Moorhead. Robert Williams/FOCUS2 / 2

MOORHEAD — The No. 1 Perham Yellowjackets dictated a methodically-paced first half and held Barnesville’s Michael Strand to a single point, but the Trojan senior turned the tables and led the No. 2-seeded Trojans to a 48-45 comeback victory to secure the 8AA subsection championship at Memorial Auditorium Tuesday evening.

Barnesville is one game away from a trip to state for the first time since 1999 and will face No. 2 seed East Grand Forks after the Green Wave took out north subsection top seed Crosby-Ironton 50-46 at Bemidji State University.

Forum News Service writers summed up the game in communal ledes:

“With a seven-point lead it all went wrong for the Crosby-Ironton Rangers.” - Brainerd Dispatch sports writer Jeremy Millsop.

The Grand Forks Herald tweeked it, “Down by seven, things suddenly perked up for East Grand Forks Senior High on Tuesday night.”

The Rangers lost in similar fashion giving up a seven-point lead early in the second half to the Green Wave. Perham led Barnesville by nine 28-19 with 11:44 to play.

Strand scored twice to cut the lead to five and Perham failed to score. With a chance to get within one possession, Barnesville was called for a third ‘five-second call with the ball’ due to Perham’s smothering man-to-man defensive pressure.

The Trojans turned methodical and picked apart Perham down the stretch.

Perham suffered an empty offensive trip, while Ben Randklev scored at 9:20 to get that one-possession score 28-25.

Another point was shaved on back-to-back possessions.

Hunter Salathe ended a four-minute Perham scoring drought but fouled Kyler Martz during an off-wing three-point attempt and Martz calmly drained all three free throws and the Perham lead was two points at 7:58.

Salathe and Ben Sauve traded buckets leading to Strand draining a three-pointer at 5:47 for a 33-32 Barnesville lead, their first since a 10-9 advantage early in the game.

Strand could smell blood. It showed in his body language, but the Trojans had yet to get a grasp on the Yellowjacket jugular.

A little luck intervened.

Sam Muer cut down the lane hard to firmly take the lead back 34-33 on a nice power move that was needed to stem the tide of momentum building for the Trojans.

The crowd was loud. It was crunch time.

Barnesville kicked the ball around on a chaotic offensive trip, but the ball eluded Jacket hands and instead of turnover, the leather landed in the hands of Martz, who turned lemony passing into scoring lemonade with a three-pointer and the Trojan fans were booming.

36-34 Barnesville.

Muer scored. Strand answered.

Beachy scored. Strand answered.

Nick Bahls missed from the arc.

Martz helped Strand pour it on and with 90 seconds to go, the game was slipping from Perham and fully in grip of a Trojan upset.

Strand scored more than half of his points in the final four minutes.

Unlike the Yellowjacket victory over Hawley, the Perham bench made multiple appearances in the game and did so early.

The officiating crew was tight on calls sending Eli Beachy to the bench with his third and an early second foul on Strand sent him to the Trojan bench in obvious frustration in the first half.

Perham’s Chris Kenntemich came off the bench to lead all scorers at halftime with eight points. Trey Moberg and Andrew Johnson also played important minutes for Perham.

With a 19-13 lead at halftime, the two teams were playing Jacket ball and the Trojans looked confounded by Perham’s stingy defense.

Both teams were short on luck also, denied by slick rims where multiple shots from shooters on both teams under the basket found ways off the iron.

There were ample opportunities for both clubs to score early and points were at a premium the entire game.

Credit Perham’s defense with allowing 13 first half points and playing in scoring range where Perham usually triumphs in the forties and fifties total points. Deserving more so, after Barnesville put up a hundo against Pelican Rapids in their semifinal victory.

The old axiom of ‘it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season’ was in play.

Barnesville carried that chip on their shoulder and roared with it in the final minutes.

The atmosphere for big-time high school basketball games at Concordia College in Memorial Auditorium is the best in the region. The crowd noise is auditory carnage on the floor and waves of emotion dribble down from the rafters.

Each possession counted and neither team put together a scoring run of more than six points. When one team struck, the other countered.

Someone always steps up in big moments.

Tuesday night, it was Michael Strand.

In two losses to Perham in the regular season, Strand put up 42 points in Perham and played with shoulder damage limiting his play in the loss for the HOL title share.

Strand played like he had a personal vendetta with a town to back him up and he is a big-time player. He produced when it counted a game after finding a way to send Ryan Bruggeman and the Pelican Rapids Vikings home for the season.

There was no easy way to win the south subsection title. There never is in Section 8AA. East Grand Forks will have their hands full with Strand and the Trojans, a team that has grown into a winner in the playoffs. In a Feb. 15 meeting, Strand hit five three-pointers, scored 25 points, and Barnesville defeated Senior High in East Grand Forks 79-67. Ben Sauve led that night scoring 26 points.

The Trojan goals are now extended. Hard to play for state when in the way are the three-time defending section champs on a floor in which they rarely lose. Concordia College was a home court advantage for Perham coming into the game.

While neutral court on paper, the Trojans won a road game Tuesday night.

Barnesville’s new quest is to represent the south subsection, as Perham has done for three-straight years and secure a bid to the state tournament.

Perham’s run of three consecutive subsection and Section 8AA titles and a fifth-straight 20-win season are feats rarely seen in this competitive region of boys basketball and should be highly commended.

Should the Trojans make noise in Minneapolis, Barnesville will have more clout saying they did it through Perham.

Barnesville also stands in the way of the Perham girls basketball team. The Section 8AA playoffs begin for the Yellowjackets in Barnesville Thursday night.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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