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Jacks overcome emotional injury, secure play-in win over Rogers

Feb. 26—BEMIDJI — When adversity struck, the Bemidji High School girls basketball team refused to give in.

The Lumberjacks lost senior captain Katey Milbrandt to a serious upper-body injury right before halftime in their Section 8-4A play-in game against ninth-seeded Rogers. Milbrandt started the second half but left the game in agony after attempting a 3-pointer on her first possession.

Thus, the eighth-seeded Jacks had to soldier on without one of their best players on Monday night at the BHS Gymnasium. Milbrandt led all scorers with 15 points at the half. Yet despite losing a five-point halftime lead and falling behind 63-58, BHS rallied to retake the lead.

In the game's final moments, Matjea Malterud stepped to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1 with Bemidji up 70-67. She sank both free throws, securing a dramatic, emotional come-from-behind 72-70 win for the Lumberjacks.

"I'm really heartbroken for her," said BHS head coach Darin Schultz of Milbrandt. "She was playing probably her best game of the season. She's a senior leader, a senior captain for us, and for her to go down on her home court (in) potentially her last game, my heart just feels for her, because she has battled a ton through these last four years. I hope she's OK."

Without Milbrandt's prolific scoring, the Jacks (10-15) relied on a committee approach to take down the Royals (5-22). But down the stretch, Malterud's performance stood out.

The junior guard nailed big shot after big shot in the final minutes. She put Bemidji up 66-63 with a corner 3, then converted a baseline jumper to give the Jacks a 68-65 advantage.

And after Karley LaZella's layup gave the Lumberjacks a 70-67 edge, it was Malterud at the line for a 1-and-1 with 3.9 seconds to go.

She didn't miss.

"(I'm) just going to do it for the team," Malterud said of her motivation. "Get in the mindset of, 'If I score both of these, then they have to have a bigger (deficit) to get back.' I do it all for the team."

"I'm extremely proud of her," added Schultz. "I know things have not always gone her way in those situations throughout the year, but she stuck with it. She puts in a lot of time behind the scenes for moments like this. I was so happy that she was able to come through and have the courage to take the shots she did and really put away the game with those two free throws in those last seconds."

It took a village for BHS to seal the victory. LaZella scored 10 second-half points, including the crucial layup. Together, Alivia Thompson and Malterud chipped in 20 for the game, including 17 in the final frame. Malterud scored all 10 of her points in the second half.

"We had a lot of players step up," Schultz said. "Karley came out and had a great second half. Josey (LaValley) came out, gave us some really good minutes defensively. Liv Thompson came out and hit a couple big shots. Tonight was just a great overall team win. We had a lot of players step up when the moment was bright."

Bemidji now advances to face top-seeded STMA, the reigning Class 4A state champions, in the Section 8-4A main bracket on Wednesday. But to a large extent, what the Lumberjacks did on Monday at the BHS Gymnasium transcends their ultimate result in this year's section tournament.

They united in the face of heartbreak and produced their best performance of the season, ensuring that seniors like Milbrandt will have at least one more game in their Bemidji careers.

"As a coach, my mind really wants to be with Katey and see how she's doing," Schultz said. "Trying to balance both (is hard). But the game has to continue to go on, and (for) our girls to fight through that, that takes an emotional toll on the team, especially when it's your leader and senior captain. But our girls stepped up. They found a way to get themselves one more practice and at least one more game."

No. 8 Bemidji 72, No. 9 Rogers 70

ROG 33 37 — 70

BHS 38 34 — 72

BEMIDJI — LaZella 16, Milbrandt 15, Malterud 10, Thompson 10, Bieber 8, Pink 7, Lish 5, LaValley 1.

ROGERS — Strassburg 21, Netzinger 18, Collier 11, Colligan 9, Brattensborg 6, Juntunen 5.