No. 6 Wadena-Deer Creek answered a hot shooting first half by No. 3 Pelican Rapids with a run out of halftime to get within a point, but the Vikings returned to form and closed out a 72-54 victory in the Section 8AA round of 16 Thursday, March 5 in Pelican Rapids.
“It’s playoffs; every team is fighting for their lives,” Pelican Rapids head coach John Gullingsrud said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a 13 to 15-point second half lead, you can’t stop playing. We knew they could get hot and hit some shots. The big thing is to stay locked in defensively. We had a lapse there, middle of the second half, where we looked really tired, didn’t move like we did in the first half.”
The teams traded buckets early to a tie at 11-all before the Vikings polished off a run-and-gun first half on a 29-16 sprint to lead 40-27 at the half.
The Vikings drained six three pointers in the final six minutes of the first half.
Jayden Rutherford nailed three from the same spot on the left wing. McHale Korf had two and Logan Fahje got it started with the first make to break the early tie at 11. Rutherford made three the hard way at the 5:27 mark scoring in bunches on his way to 22 points in the game.
Wadena-Deer Creek head coach Kevin Tumberg had a message in the locker room that spurred his team coming out of the break.
“We were in a similar situation about a month and a half ago against Frazee, down exactly the same 13 and Frazee had shot the lights out just like Pelican did,” Tumberg said. “I didn’t feel like we shot the ball as well as we are capable of doing. We talked about how we’ve been here before, to not quit. Eventually, Pelican is going to miss and they did to allow us to get back in the game.”
The Wolverines found their touch from the arc. Bereket Loer and Lucas Hinojos each struck for two long balls to stay in striking distance trailing 49-41 with 11:40 remaining in regulation.
The Vikings continued to misfire and another Loer bomb from well behind the arc left wing pulled the visitors to within 53-49 three minutes later.
Tumberg used a timeout after each team had a non-scoring possession. Out of the huddle, Tony Kreklau made his first and only points of the night big ones getting a bucket and a foul. He converted the free throw and with seven minutes to play Pelican’s lead had shrunk to one point 53-52.
“This group of kids, I don't know what it is about them but they don’t quit, ever,” Tumberg said. “They’re going to bust their butts, never quit and never give up and that’s one thing I really like about this team.”
Timmy Guler got Pelican Rapids back on track sinking a three-pointer 35 seconds later and followed up with an immediate steal at the timeline to set up Liam Sytsma’s basket in the lane off a great feed by Korf.
Pelican’s lead was back to six points quickly.
“The response after they closed it to one point there was huge,” said Gullingsrud. “Our guys took control and got it stretched out from one to seven or eight pretty quick. That was a big moment.”
Down seven, Loer launched a three that the Wolverines needed but the ball found unkind iron and was in and out.
Pelican Rapids finished in charge on a 13-1 run and Sytsma cemented the victory with a slam dunk to go up 68-53 with 90 seconds left in the game.
Korf led all scorers with 26 points, complemented nicely by Rutherford’s 22 and 15 from Fahje.
The Wolverines (16-11) had three scorers in double figures: Loer 16, Payton Rondestvedt 15 and Hinojos 10.
Pelican Rapids has won nine of the last 10 games to improve to 19-8, the only loss in that stretch coming at Perham 75-50 on Feb. 24.
The Vikings will face No. 2 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (21-6) Saturday, March 7 at Concordia College in Moorhead at 6:15 p.m. The Rebels knocked out No. 7 Crookston at home 71-51.
“You get to the final eight in the section and you’ve got to be ready for wars all the way through,” said Gullingsrud. “We had two great basketball games with them this season.”
Both teams like to get up and down the floor and the clubs split the season series, each on home court. The Vikings won 72-70 in early December. The Rebels needed overtime 81-80 in late January.
“I expect it to be tight; it’s going to come down to the last possessions and we have to be able to execute down the stretch,” Gullingsrud said.
Section 8AA First Round
No. 3 Pelican Rapids 72, No. 6 Wadena-Deer Creek 54
WDC 27 27 - 54
PEL 40 32 - 72
WDC - Bereket Loer 16, Payton Rondestvedt 15, Lucas Hinojos 10, Cooper Folkestad 7, Tony Kreklau 3, Aiden Larson 3.
PEL - McHale Korf 26, Jayden Rutherford 22, Logan Fahje 15, Timmy Guler 5, Liam Systma 3.