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Girls basketball: Lakers live to fight another day after comeback win over Grand Rapids

The Detroit Lakes girls basketball team erased a nine-point first-half deficit in Thursday's consolation semifinal win over Grand Rapids.

Detroit Lakes' Abby Larson shoots a free throw in the second half of the Lakers' 55-49 win over Grand Rapids in the Class 3-A consolation state semifinals on Mar. 17, 2022 at Concordia-St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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ST. PAUL – The Detroit Lakes girls basketball team just won’t die, no matter how much people expect them to.

The Lakers won their fourth elimination game of the season in a 55-49 consolation semifinal victory over the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks (24-6). After dropping the Class 3-A quarterfinal 64-43 against Totino-Grace on Wednesday afternoon , Detroit Lakes shook off the loss to keep their season alive one more time.

“It feels so good to keep going,” sophomore Elle Bettcher said. “I’m glad we got the jitters out yesterday. Today, we came out strong. Even when we got down, I’m really proud of us for shaking it off.”

The Thunderhawks jumped out to a 19-10 lead on the back of junior Taryn Hemling’s sharpshooting. She had 13 points in the first half and made 3-of-4 three-pointers to start the game. From there, it was all Detroit Lakes to close out the first half.

Sophomore Ella Okeson came off the bench and sparked a 20-6 run to close out the opening frame. Okeson had a team-high nine points over the first 18 minutes for the Lakers and finished with 13.

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Detroit Lakes' Grace Gunderson shoots a three pointer in the second half of the Lakers' 55-49 win over Grand Rapids in the Class 3-A consolation state semifinals on Mar. 17, 2022 at Concordia-St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Okeson said of providing a spark off the bench. “We have our five starters, but it’s important to have a bench too. I’m really glad I can contribute to us having a good bench. I want to go in and give it my all and do what I can to help my team win.”

Detroit Lakes struggled with Grand Rapids’ full-court press early on but settled in defensively. Once the Laker defense got in a rhythm, the offense found its legs. Detroit Lakes erased a nine-point deficit and took a 30-25 lead into the locker room.

“I think the pace changed,” Bettcher said. “We got to play our game and set the tone for our team. That’s when we started doing really well.”

The Lakers’ kept their momentum rolling into the second half and jumped out to a 44-30 lead, their largest of the game.

“Our halftime message was just to go out and win the second half,” Okeson said. “We did half of the work. We needed to finish the job. We didn’t want to bomb it.”

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Detroit Lakes' Helena Daggett, right, drives to the rim in the second half of the Lakers' 55-49 win over Grand Rapids in the Class 3-A consolation state semifinals on Mar. 17, 2022 at Concordia-St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The Thunderhawks had another run in them before their season ended. Grand Rapids closed Detroit Lakes’ 14-point gap with a 12-0 run with 5:53 left. Hamling hit a three before Jessica Lofstrom buried a mid-range jumper, and Braya LaPlant hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game. It was the closest Grand Rapids would get to tying the game.

Detroit Lakes’ Abby Larson capped off a 4-0 stretch to put the Lakers ahead 49-43. LaPlant sunk a three on the Thunderhawks’ next possession and was fouled on the shot. However, she missed the free throw to keep it a three-point Detroit Lakes lead.

Grand Rapids’ comeback push ran out of gas and time. The Lakers hit 5-of-8 free throws down the stretch to close out a six-point win over another highly-ranked team. Grand Rapids was No. 9 in the Class 3-A QRF ratings coming into Thursday’s game, according to Minnesota-Scores. 

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“It feels really good because everybody thought we would come here and lose two games,” Okeson said. “It just feels really good to prove people wrong and win. It gives us a lot of motivation when we get the chance to prove people wrong. We’re the only ones who believe in us, and it feels so good to be right.”

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Grace Gunderson, left, gets bumped with the ball in the post in the second half of the Lakers' 55-49 win over Grand Rapids in the Class 3-A consolation state semifinals on Mar. 17, 2022 at Concordia-St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Bettcher’s motivation

Detroit Lakes has played in four games where tomorrow wasn’t promised and has won all four of them. The Lakers beat Little Falls, Alexandria, Willmar and Grand Rapids by 25 combined points to keep their season alive time and time again. It sets up a date with Austin on Friday at 4 p.m. for a chance to bring home hardware.

“It just shows how many fighters we have,” Bettcher said on going 4-0 in elimination games. "We’re not ready to be done, and we’ll do whatever it takes for one more game. It’s a testament to our grit.”

Bettcher has been one of the many surprises for Detroit Lakes this season. In the absence of her sister, Alex, she’s had to grow into the post presence the Lakers were desperately missing.

“I just don’t want our season to end,” Bettcher said. “This is the last year I’ll get to play with my sister. I want to keep this alive as long as I can. I just keep telling myself that I need to do whatever is possible to play one more game.”

Her consistency has been one of the unsung keys for the Lakers this postseason. When the Lakers string stops together, Bettcher has a hand in most of them. On Thursday, she grabbed the game-clinching steal up two possessions in the final minute. Ever since the Section 8-3A semifinal win over Alexandria in double overtime, she has taken her game to a new level.

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Detroit Lakes' Elle and Alex Bettcher hug before the Lakers' 55-49 win over Grand Rapids in the Class 3-A consolation state semifinals on Mar. 17, 2022 at Concordia-St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Elle and Alex are a sophomore and senior sister combo that play the same sports. This year was supposed to be the only year the two would compete together at the varsity level before Alex tore her ACL last June . Next fall, Alex is headed to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to play basketball. While it was believed that her time in a Laker basketball jersey was over, she’s participated in the team’s on-court warmups each of the last four games.

“When she first dressed in Alexandria, it made me a little emotional,” Elle Bettcher said. “It just feels so great to be on the court with her because, in our high school careers, we’ve never been on the court together. At least we get to do it in warmups, and that’s pretty special to me.”

Alex is the only senior on the roster for Detroit Lakes. Thursday will be the last time she steps on the court in a Laker jersey even if she doesn't check into the game.

Elle takes in every second of those warmup sessions she gets with her sister. Each win in Detroit Lakes’ miraculous playoff run has bought them 20 more minutes on the court together.

“That’s my motivation,” Bettcher said of keeping her sister’s senior season alive. “She’s obviously going on to play basketball in college, but this is the last time I’ll get to do this with her. I want to be a Laker with her as long as I can.”

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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