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Bemidji can't sustain offensive surge as hot shooting cools off in 2nd half

Jan. 6—BEMIDJI — The Bemidji High School girls basketball team found something offensively in the first half against Esko on Saturday.

The Lumberjacks largely managed to keep up with Esko's length and shooting ability thanks to the exploits of Kait LaDuke, who caught fire with four 3-pointers and led BHS with 13 points. Her surge kept the Jacks in the game for the first 18 minutes.

Unfortunately for Bemidji, LaDuke was ineligible for the second half after playing both halves of the preceding junior varsity game. And the Lumberjacks struggled without her, scoring 13 points in total as Esko pulled away to a 65-44 win.

"Esko's a really good basketball team," said BHS head coach Darin Schultz. "They're 8-4. They're a really veteran group. In the first half, I thought we did a lot of really good things. They came out and played zone. They had watched a little tape and seen that we struggled to shoot the ball in the past. And Kait LaDuke came out in the first half and she was on fire.

"She hit her first one. She was playing with confidence. Our girls did a really good job of finding her, and she was able to have a really big run herself. And then in the second half, things just got away."

Without LaDuke in the lineup, Bemidji (6-5) didn't crack the scoreboard again until Katey Milbrandt hit a top-of-the-key 3-pointer at the 9:44 mark of the second half. A few missed shots and free throws also led to frustration that allowed Esko to pick up some easy baskets on the other end of the floor.

"We struggled a little bit with the fundamentals of dealing with our press," Schultz said. "And to be honest, I felt like there were times where we hung our heads a little bit and we were getting a little frustrated with ourselves.

"We had a good life lesson today that things are not always going to go the way that we hope or the way that we want. We're going to always be dealing with adversity. But what can we control in those moments? How do we control our attitude? How do we control our work ethic? And how do we control our positivity surrounding our team?"

The Lumberjacks were coming off a win over Mounds View at a holiday tournament in Hibbing, which Schultz described as a great way to head into their holiday break. As they now emerge for the season's home stretch, it's clear that there is still plenty for BHS to work on moving forward.

"It's always an ongoing process, especially when you have a younger team," Schultz said. "We're constantly going to be learning. We're constantly going to be getting better. The takeaway basketball-wise from this is that we've got to look at the things that we need to work on, and obviously dealing with a press is one of those things.

"Dealing with high ball pressure is something that we'll continue to work on. We'll continue to grow and continue to get better, and we'll show up and continue to work hard every single day."

The next time the Jacks encounter adversity, Schultz will be seeking a different response.

"Tonight did not go the way that we wanted it to, but we're going to have nights like that," he said. "No night is going to be perfect. We're going to have down games, and tonight was one of those. How are we going to respond next week? Because we have three really important games next week with Fergus Falls and Sauk Rapids(-Rice), a big section opponent, and then Hibbing on Saturday. So hopefully, we'll come out and continue to work on Monday and be ready to respond on Tuesday."

Esko 65, Bemidji 44

ESK 34 31 — 65

BHS 31 13 — 44

BEMIDJI — LaDuke 13, Bieber 12, Milbrandt 9, LaZella 4, Thompson 4, Lish 2.

ESKO — Cai. Berger 22, Swanson 18, Johnson 11, Cad. Berger 6, McConnell 3, Pettyjohn 3, Sinnott 2.