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Girls basketball: Big second half lifts Perham over Detroit Lakes in battle of top-20 teams

The Perham girls basketball team leaned on its aggressive defense and balanced offensive to pull away from Detroit Lakes on Thursday night at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse. The Lakers struggled to knock down shots in a 50-34 loss to open the season in a battle of top-25 teams.

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Perham's Willow Thiel drives to the rim in the Yellowjackets' 50-34 win over Detroit Lakes on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus
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DETROIT LAKES – A pair of top 20 teams met to open the girls basketball season at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse on Thursday night.

Perham (2-0), the 13th-ranked team in Class 2A, knocked off Class 3A's sixth-ranked Detroit Lakes (0-1) 50-34. It's the Yellowjackets' fourth-consecutive win over the Lakers, dating back to Jan. 17, 2019.

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Perham's Ryleigh Mickelson, left, loses the ball to Abby Larson in the Yellowjackets' 50-34 win over Detroit Lakes on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"We held them to 50," Detroit Lakes head coach Rachel Johnson said. "It would've been nice to keep them down in the '40s. Even though that's our goal, I can't be upset with a defensive stand like that. If you hold a team to 40-50 points, you should be winning. Tonight, it wasn't happening. We just couldn't get shots to fall. I swear Elle Bettcher had a shot that was all the way in, and it popped right back out. That's when you know it's not your night."

While shooting struggles plagued the Lakers offensively, Perham's aggressive defense was a response after Tuesday's lackluster performance in a 69-64 road win against Henning.

"We started out with three fouls in the second half and ended with only seven," Perham head coach TJ Super said. "I can't emphasize how bad we were defensively against Henning the other night and how much better we were here. Our help defense was better. Our rotations were better. Our third-person and our box-outs were better. The girls bought into what we're doing, which is the sign of a good team and good kids. We failed on Tuesday and came back to turn it into a success tonight."

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Perham trailed 16-12 late in the first half before going on the game's biggest run. The Yellowjackets took a 24-18 lead before halftime with the help of a three-pointer from Ryleigh Mickelson and a driving layup from Cora Grismer.

Perham kept rolling to start the second half. Kaia Anderson's floater, followed by an Olivia Pilgrim three-pointer, put the Yellowjackets ahead 35-20.

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Detroit Lakes' Karlee Mace brings the ball up the court in the Lakers' 50-34 loss against Perham on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"We have girls stepping up all over the place," Super said. "In Henning, Olivia Rosenthal and Ryleigh Mickelson were our players of the game. They were amazing. Tonight, we had other girls step up. (Kaia Anderson) and Cora (Grismer) stepped up to make big plays. The leadership of girls like Olivia Pilgrim and Lilly Aakre to get these girls to focus defensively and do things the right way is really big."

When Detroit Lakes focused on closing out on three-point attempts, the floor opened up for Perham's dynamic post players. Willow Thiel led all scorers with 14 points. The Yellowjackets also dominated the offensive glass, creating second and third-chance opportunities.

"We got more aggressive," Super said. "We didn't score a ton more points, but we played more aggressively. When we got the lead, we didn't rush stuff. We're not the type of team that's going to chew time off the clock, but until they add a shot clock, we're going to be patient."

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Mya Morris attempts an off-balanced shot off the glass in the Yellowjackets' 50-34 win over Detroit Lakes on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

The Lakers' defense kept them within striking distance of making a comeback. However, it came on a night when points were at a premium.

"We got plenty of good looks," Johnson said. "It'll be exciting to see the girls settle in offensively tomorrow when we go to Little Falls. We want to do a better job of finishing off those first looks. Tonight, we couldn't quite execute."

Abby Larson and Grace Gunderson combined for 17 points to lead the way for the Lakers offensively. Ellie Lunde added seven off the bench while garnering some impactful minutes defensively when senior Jacee Hauser succumbed to foul trouble.

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After the first half, Super challenged his girls to ramp up the intensity on the offensive end.

"You can watch what they do on film, but it doesn't do it justice," Super said of Detroit Lakes' defense. "They're so long and so big. They cover so much ground and get to passing lanes really well. Even when you think you have a shot, you don't. I thought our girls played very hesitant in the first half. We didn't attack at all. So much credit goes to coach Johnson and her team."

While both teams have loft postseason aspirations, March is a ways away. Super is pleased to come out of the first week of the season with a pair of wins against two teams with high expectations.

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The Perham bench celebrates an offenive foul in the Yellowjackets' 50-34 win over Detroit Lakes on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"Obviously, you want to win every single game," Super said. "We took it to (Henning) last year, and they brought a lot of seniors and juniors back this season. We knew their home gym was going to be energetic. We knew it would be a battle, and we weren't happy with how we played. Our defense wasn't good by any sense of the imagination. We didn't think one day of practice would be enough to fix it, but the mentality and the focus the girls had to prepare for a good DL team was really good."

Johnson is looking for a more pointed effort mentally going forward.

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Detroit Lakes' Grace Gunderson drives to the rim in the Lakers' 50-34 loss against Perham on Dec. 1, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Our two big goals going into the next game are to make fewer mental errors on defense and find a way to get more comfortable and settle in offensively," Johnson said. "Physically, we are where we're at. It's the mental game we need to improve on… The best part about the first game is that it's done, and we can move on and learn from it. Even with all of the success these girls had last year, this is still a work in progress. When you have a team that takes a loss like this and is ready to be coached after and learn from it, you're in a good spot."

PHS 24 26 – 50

DL 18 16 – 34

DL SCORING- Jacee Hauser 3, Helena Daggett 3, Elle Bettcher 4, Ellie Lunde 7, Grace Gunderson 8, Abby Larson 9

PHS SCORING- Willow Thiel 14, Kennedy Pilgrim 5, Mya Morris 6, Olivia Pilgrim 8, Cora Grismer 6, Ryleigh Mickelson 3, Kaia Anderson 6, Olivia Rosenthal 2

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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