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Ella Thayer reaches 1,000 points as Northome/Kelliher sweeps CLB in regular season

Feb. 22—KELLIHER — Ella Thayer had been waiting for this moment for all her life.

The Northome/Kelliher girls basketball senior forward could feel her 1,000th point coming in the air on Thursday night in Kelliher, entering the Mustangs' contest against Cass Lake-Bena just four points away from the milestone. And on an and-one putback layup in the first half, she reached it, setting off a game stoppage and jubilant mob from her teammates as they honored the occasion.

"It was really great," said Thayer of reaching 1,000. "It was a childhood goal of mine, because I saw a bunch of older girls do it, and it looked so great. But what was really great was the support behind the team and just how they hype you up for everything. It's really great how we support each other."

That was the highlight, but the overall takeaway was this: Class A No. 8 Northome/Kelliher is once again a Section 8A contender, borne out by its 67-56 victory over an 11th-ranked Panthers team that felled the Mustangs in the 8A quarterfinals last season. Thursday's win clinched a season sweep over CLB, as Northome/Kelliher defeated the Panthers 73-63 on Jan. 19 in Cass Lake.

Thayer's bucket and free throw put the Mustangs up 17-12 to cap a 9-0 run, and Northome/Kelliher (22-3) only accelerated from there. By the end of the half, the Mustangs led 43-23 and had firm control of the game.

Cass Lake-Bena (19-6) committed 15 fouls in the first half, which set up Northome/Kelliher to take advantage with 25 made free throws across both halves. The Mustangs also forced turnovers and raced out in transition, galloping to the basket for a procession of easy points.

"It's a good judge of figuring out where we are, what we need to work on, and obviously there are still some things to work on," said N/K head coach Kevin Waldo. "But the girls brought it. They played with defense, with intensity, and we were able to make enough plays down the stretch to pull it out in the end."

CLB didn't go down without a fight. The Panthers cut the deficit to 58-50 late in the second half, but Northome/Kelliher held the line there and secured another double-digit victory.

"We never give up," said CLB head coach Martin Wind. "That's the kind of thing we've done for the past five years since I've been coaching. No matter how much we're down in the first (or) second half, we never give up. We pulled it down to eight in the second half, and we just couldn't get a bucket to fall when we had a chance to pull it back down. The girls never give up. That's one good thing about our team."

Northome/Kelliher's first-half closing stretch ultimately made the difference. After a helter-skelter first few minutes featuring aggressive full-court pressing that induced numerous turnovers by both teams, the Mustangs settled into their set plays and got into their offense consistently.

"We really slowed it down," Thayer said. "We (broke) the press, and we came together and it flowed really nicely like we usually play. We played how we know we can."

Northome/Kelliher swept the regular-season series last season as well, but the Panthers got the one that mattered most with a 55-50 triumph in the 8A East subsection semifinals. The two seem destined for a sixth matchup in two seasons, and Thayer is doing everything she can to ready herself and her teammates for her final shot at section glory.

"It's really big (motivation)," she said. "I've been thinking about it a lot. This year, if we keep moving forward like we have, we can take it if we persevere through it."

No. 8 Northome/Kelliher 67, No. 11 Cass Lake-Bena 56

CLB 23 33 — 56

NK 43 24 — 67

NORTHOME/KELLIHER — K. Thayer 24, Binkley 17, E. Thayer 11, Lundin 7, C. Hallstrom 6, Grundmeier 2.

CASS LAKE-BENA — Fineday 22, Staples-Fairbanks 11, Wright 10, LaRose 7, Graves-Desjarlait 2.