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Northome/Kelliher remembers seniors as Fosston ends Mustangs' playoff run

Mar. 6—THIEF RIVER FALLS — When the end of the road comes in sports, it's often painful.

Only one team can emerge victorious in each tournament. It's the magic and the misery of athletic competition, and the Northome/Kelliher girls basketball team experienced the latter on Wednesday night in Thief River Falls.

The Mustangs started fast in the Section 8A East championship against Fosston, racing to a 24-17 first-half lead and holding a three-point advantage at halftime. But the Greyhounds surged to an early second-half edge and didn't look back, dominating the second frame en route to a 63-52 win.

"The seniors, it's the toughest for (them)," said Mustangs head coach Kevin Waldo. "We've spent a lot of time together, and like we just told them in (the locker room), you're family. We see you more than our kids. It's tough. It's not easy. But in the end, they left it all on the court, and that's all we asked of them."

East No. 2 seed Northome/Kelliher (25-4) raced out of the starting gates, utilizing aggressive full-court pressure to force turnovers and convert easy fast-break layups. But out of the halftime break, No. 1 Fosston (28-2) flipped the script.

The Greyhounds seized the lead with three of the first four baskets of the second half, going up 31-30. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, they wrestled the reins away completely, methodically building their way up to a 57-38 advantage.

"We just couldn't put the ball in the hole," Waldo said. "Our defense, we were trying to get steals and we were trying to gamble a little more than we should, and the ball didn't go in, and it was frustrating. We didn't get a few calls (to) go our way, and it was all in all a frustrating half for our kids. Some of that we brought on ourselves, and there's nothing we could do about it."

The Mustangs rotated seven players for the majority of the contest, which made it especially difficult when starters Ella Thayer and Alli Lundin fouled out late in the game. Yet Northome/Kelliher rallied regardless, slicing the deficit to 59-52 with 52.7 seconds to go on Kate Thayer's wing 3-pointer.

But the Mustangs just ran out of time.

"Sometimes, the breaks don't go your way," Waldo said. "That's life. But there are going to be tougher things in life than this. It sucks right now, but we'll look back at it, and it'll be happy memories from here on out."

This Northome/Kelliher group will be long remembered as the first in decades to advance as far as the 8A semifinals, reaching a stage unfamiliar to the Mustangs. They'll bring back a number of contributors from this year's team, but the end of this season marked the end of the road for seniors Meleah Grundmeier, Kenly Hallstrom and Ella Thayer.

The emotion was evident as all of Northome/Kelliher's players processed the reality of their final game together.

"I'll remember what the seniors have done for us," Waldo said. "Their leadership, their ability to take some of the sophomores and the younger girls and lead them every day at practice and on the court, what they've done for our program. Everyone sees it. We see it as coaches.

"It's tough to see them go (because of) what they've done and what they put in, their commitment to this team. I'm so proud of them for that fight and what they showed us tonight, even though things weren't going their way."

The Mustangs have an excellent chance to be back in the section title conversation next year. But the closing moments on Wednesday were devoted to honoring the contributions of those players who won't suit up for Northome/Kelliher next season.

"There's always next year, and next year, we'll be strong because of those seniors and their leadership," Waldo said. "We've got a good group coming back, and it'll be another fun season. We'll have some other kids step up and take some places. We know there's some that are ready, and we'll develop some more. It's just sad. It's hard right now to process it all. These seniors are such a huge part of our program and our life."

Fosston 63, Northome/Kelliher 52

NK 28 24 — 52

FOS 25 38 — 63

NORTHOME/KELLIHER — Binkley 17, K. Thayer 17, Lundin 7, E. Thayer 6, C. Hallstrom 4, Grundmeier 1.

FOSSTON — L. Mahlen 24, B. Mahlen 12, Burrack 11, Manecke 10, Duppong 3, Johnson 3.