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Expectations high for Perham basketball

PERHAM -- The Perham boys basketball players are becoming pros at meet and greets.

The Yellowjackets, who won the Minnesota Class 2A state championship last year, once again made a whistle-stop tour of six different locations in Perham before departing for their return trip to the state tournament in Minneapolis.

Top-seeded Perham (27-2) plays Worthington (21-6) at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) in the quarterfinals at the Target Center.

Last year's Yellowjackets squad persevered to a championship after then-junior Zach Gabbard collapsed on the court during a January road game in Glyndon, Minn.

Gabbard's recovery and the team's title run garnered attention statewide, but the Yellowjackets' encore has been conducted largely under the radar.

"Last year we had the unfortunate incident with Zach going down. It kind of got on us a rollercoaster ride with him being in the hospital and trying to keep our team together," Perham head coach Dave Cresap said.

"We played with a lot of emotion last year and we were able to get it done that way. This year is a little bit different. We got Zach back on the team, which is a great inspiration for us. ... This team has really overachieved, and I'm very proud of them."

Gabbard was cleared to play earlier in the season, but is limited.

Tuesday gave the team a chance to connect with its fans. The coaches and players boarded a charter bus after it's walkthrough amongst the student body of Perham High School.

The bus proceeded to make five more stops, including one to the Perham Living nursing home, where the team spent time mingling with residents, many of whom listen to the Yellowjackets on the radio.

Seniors Mark Schumacher and Dan Cavanagh even broke out into song, performing a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The Yellowjackets like to have fun, but being the defending champions demands results on the court.

"I knew we had the possibility of making it back (to state), but we had to put in a lot of work," said senior guard Jordan Bruhn, who scored 23 points in the Section 8 title game last Friday.

"We're definitely more experienced this year," said senior guard Jordan Cresap, who is Dave Cresap's son. "We faced a lot of adversity and close games last year. We'd always somehow pull out the wins. That has helped a lot in close games this year.

"Really, we just know how to win."

Defense has been the key for Perham. The Yellowjackets allow opponents an average of 42.4 points per game.

"Defense is what we've preached all year," senior guard Jordan Anderson said. "Being No. 1 in the state in state QRF (quality results formula) is basically because of our defense. It's what made us a better team this year."

"This year our maturity has been on the defensive end," Bruhn said. "We've been dominating our opponents on the defensive end."

The commitment to defense started in the wake of last season's title. Dave Cresap and the Yellowjackets knew they'd be getting the best effort from every opponent.

"We put a staple on our back that we were going to play defense," Cresap said. "Our foundation is defense and the kids have really bought into that. We played good defense all year, and we were fortunate to win 27 games."