MOORHEAD -- If anyone could hold their breath for 36 minutes, it would have been during the Bemidji High School boys basketball team’s Section 8-3A semifinal game against St. Cloud Apollo on Friday.
The Lumberjacks led wire-to-wire, fending off every Eagles push and gutting out a suspenseful 57-47 win in Moorhead.
“These guys are competitors. It doesn’t seem to matter the stage,” BHS head coach Travis Peterson said. “We have a lot of guys who have played in the state football tournament, played in the state soccer tournament. So they’ve been in big games. They’ve learned to focus on the game itself and nothing else.”
Top-seeded Bemidji did enough on the offensive end while forcing the fourth-seeded Eagles into a poor shooting night on the other end. The combination clinched the Jacks’ first bid to a section championship game since 2012.
“It’s one step closer to our goal,” Peterson said. “The kids set a goal to get to the state tournament, win our section. They’ve proven throughout the season that they’re the type of team that can get there.”
BHS (22-4) came out on a mission, jumping out with a 14-2 start in six minutes that Quincy Wilson finished off with a corner 3-pointer.
Four minutes later, St. Cloud Apollo (15-13) cut back within five points, but Colten Jensen found Spencer Konecne for a two-handed slam that reignited Bemidji’s boisterous traveling fanbase.
“The atmosphere was awesome. It was awesome to have so many Bemidji fans come out,” Wilson said. “It felt like every single play, every single time we scored, the crowd just erupted even louder.”
Bemidji carried a 26-20 lead into the half, but the difference soon trimmed to two at 28-26 on a fast break layup for Clifton Patterson early in the second half. However, Jensen netted back-to-back inside baskets for BHS in response, giving the Lumberjacks more breathing room to work with.
And shortly after, Jensen put in another bucket off a Ben Hess dish, and the Jacks had their largest lead of the night at 46-33 with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left.
The defense did the rest -- and a posterizing Konecne slam off a Wilson feed didn’t hurt, either.
“When we’re playing as a team, it’s very hard to beat us,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we have one player on the team that will take over. When we work as a team, I think we’ll win every single time.”
A three from Chang Hoth cut it to 51-47 with 1:53 left, but BHS forced enough Eagle misses on desperation heaves down the stretch to storm away with the 57-47 victory.
“I’m proud of the boys for gutting it out,” Peterson said. “Every game is a grind this time of year when you get into the playoffs. Our section is strong. There are no easy ones. They were a very tough opponent, but the boys just competed on every single possession, whether it was defense or offense.”
Konecne ended with a game-high 20 points alongside 12 rebounds and four blocks, while Jensen also had a double-double on 16 points and 10 boards. Wilson’s 14 points solidified a trio that made up 50 of Bemidji’s 57 points, while Hess hauled in eight boards and Kade Peterson pitched in five assists.
The Lumberjacks now advance to their first section championship game in seven years, where they’ll meet second-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in Brainerd.
Bemidji’s first state berth since 1985 will be there for the taking.
“We’ve got to go out and play ball on Thursday,” coach Peterson said. “This is a huge accomplishment for the boys, and they’re super pumped. But they’re also focused on the next one. We’ll celebrate tonight and then start focusing on the next one.”
No. 1 Bemidji 57, No. 4 St. Cloud Apollo 47
SCA 20 27 -- 47
BHS 26 31 -- 57
ST. CLOUD APOLLO (15-13) -- Gravelle 20, Hoth 8, D. Diew 6, Johnson 5, T. Diew 2, Hausmann 2, Patterson 2, Williams 2.
BEMIDJI (22-4) -- Konecne 20, Jensen 16, Wilson 14, Peterson 4, B. Hess 3.