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Sauk Centre's late comeback caps off frustrating Grand8 showing for Perham girls basketball

The Perham girls basketball team let two late leads slip in back-to-back games in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic.

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Greta Hillukka looks for a teammate in the second half of Perham's 47-43 loss against Sauk Centre on Dec. 29, 2021 at The Hive in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic. Jared Rubado / Perham Focus
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The Perham girls basketball team couldn't overcome the absence of one of its three leading scorers in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic.

After a 70-68 overtime loss against Waconia on Tuesday, the Yellowjackets (6-3) couldn't hang on to beat the Sauk Centre (7-4) on Wednesday afternoon. The Mainstreeters closed out the final 5:44 on a 7-1 run to pull out a 47-43 victory.

"One of the big things we were missing today was Syndey Anderson," Perham head coach TJ Super said. "She's one of those girls that takes a lot of shots for us. Greta Hillukka also only took two shots. Those two girls are our best shooters. We can find ways to play without one of them, but when you're missing both of the shots they take in a game, you're going to struggle offensively."

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Olivia Rosenthal takes a three-point shot in the second half of Perham's 47-43 loss against Sauk Centre on Dec. 29, 2021 at The Hive in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic. Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

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Perham held a small lead with three minutes left to go in the first half before Sauk Centre closed the first 18 minutes on a 10-0 run. The shooting woes continued until sophomore Kennedy Pilgrim roped off a stretch of 12 straight points to give the lead back to the Yellowjackets midway through the second half. She had a team-high 18 points on the day.

"(Sauk Centre) was doing what kind of do to girls sometimes, and that's not guarding her," Super said of Pilgrim. "They left her open from three, and she made them pay for it. She's a good shooter. She missed a couple of them early, but she knocked down a few threes and did a good job of cutting to the basket."

Even though the shots weren't falling, Perham's defensive effort kept them in the game.

"Our defense was really quite good," Super said. "(Sauk Centre) made some shots that I thought were impressive. Rosenthal was lights out defensively in keeping her girl in front of her. Our defense was really good today. Our offense was the thing that failed us."

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Olivia Pilgrim looks for a teammate in the second half of Perham's 47-43 loss against Sauk Centre on Dec. 29, 2021 at The Hive in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic. Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

Sauk Centre is the 14th-ranked team in Class AA, according to Minnesota Basketball News, and they showed why in the final minutes on Wednesday afternoon. The Mainstreeters' sharp defense and clutch free throw shooting from Cierra Kortan and Jenna Gapinski-Vogt clinched their seventh win of the season. Perham, the 13th-ranked team in Class AA, saw two late leads evaporate in less than 24 hours.

"The big thing from both of these games is we can't just forget about what happened," Super said. "We had leads in the last minute and a half of both of them and lost them. This team should be thinking about making a run in the section tournament. If we're going to win four games in the section tournament, then these kinds of things can't happen."

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On Tuesday, Waconia knocked off Perham in overtime on a buzzer-beater three-pointer. In a game that saw a bizarre ending, the Yellowjackets won't forget a memorable night at The Hive,

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Kennedy Pilgrim hits one of her two second-half threes on Dec. 29, 2021 in Perham's 47-43 loss to Sauk Centre at the Hive in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic. Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"It was a fun game," Super said. "It's one of those games where the girls aren't going to forget they played in it. They're going to tell stories about hitting a half-court shot and three at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. Willow Thiel was an absolute beast. She had a double-double with 30 points. It's just her going into take-over mode against two D-2 commits. Being able to go up against competition like that is pretty awesome."

When Perham gets back to full strength, they'll have more chances to prove they can beat tough competition. The Yellowjackets head to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (1-6) and Breckenridge (3-5) before a battle at Hawley (6-1) takes place on Jan. 14. Perham will also play seventh-ranked Fergus Falls on Jan. 15 at home in the Crossover Classic.

"One thing I'm really happy about with this group is how they follow through on the game plans we give them," Super said. "The last two games, we haven't found a way to pull out a win in the end, and that's kind of the disappointing part about this week."

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Willow Thiel drives to the basket in the second half of Perham's 47-43 loss against Sauk Centre on Dec. 29, 2021 at The Hive in the Grand8 Holiday Basketball Classic. Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

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Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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