Efficiency at the free-throw line and Tarah Cleveland's game-high 35 points helped the Menahga girls basketball team open the season with a 71-42 victory over Park Rapids Tuesday night at Menahga.
The Panthers opened the season on a positive note under new head coach Nic Lembcke when Ashley Domino scored twice off rebounds and Olivia Vaadeland scored off a rebound as Park Rapids jumped out to a 6-3 lead at the 15:10 mark.
Cleveland sparked an 18-4 run by scoring 12 points, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers and a conventional three-point play. Jenny Skoog also hit a 3-pointer during that stretch as Menahga built a 21-10 lead with 8:07 to play in the first half. Lydia Lutz hit two free throws and scored off a steal to account for Park Rapids' scoring during that seven-minute span.
Alyssa Carlson hit a 3-pointer for the Panthers at the 7:48 mark before 3-pointers by Skoog and Arielle Pihlaja gave the Braves a 28-14 advantage with 6:26 to go in the first half.
Two jumpers by Carson Lee Christenson and a 3-pointer by Grace Bateman kept the Panthers within 32-21 at the 3:11 mark before three free throws and a layup by Cleveland gave Menahga a 40-21 lead at the break.
The Panthers hit only 3 of 19 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times in the first half. Meanwhile, Menahga made 16 of 23 free throws to offset 15 turnovers.
Layups by Vaadeland and Domino and a 3-pointer by Carlson kept Park Rapids within 47-31 with 13:29 to play before the Braves used a basket off a rebound by Amelia Pho, two baskets by Cleveland and a layup by Maria Tormanen to push the lead to 59-32 with 4:55 remaining.
Bateman and Shelby Pierce hit jumpers and Nicole Price converted a three-point play for the Panthers while Pho, Cleveland, Tormanen, Shannon Skoog and Paige Skoog had layups for Menahga down the stretch.
Cleveland, who hit 14 of 17 free throws, was the only player to score in double figures. Eight other Menahga players contributed points.
"Overall, we played much better than we started off last year and we are starting to become the team I envisioned us to be," said Menahga head coach Steve Schreiber. "The things I really wanted to see were getting after it on the offensive glass (which we did very well), getting to the free throw line and making them (which we did really well) and pushing the ball, but being smart with it (which we still need a lot of work on). The other thing I found out was we will be a lot deeper this year. I played all 10 of my varsity girls and all of them contributed significant minutes and that was probably my most pleasant surprise. We still have a lot to work on, but we are working hard and learning every day."
Domino and Carlson led the Panthers by combining for 14 points as nine different players reached the scoring column. Domino also had nine rebounds, Anna Grimes had eight rebounds, Vaadeland had eight rebounds and five steals, and Lutz had seven rebounds. Carlson and Christenson had three steals apiece while Carlson had the Panthers' two assists.
"I thought we were getting the shots that we wanted. We just weren't able to knock them down. We missed a lot of close baskets and a lot of free throws," said Lembcke, whose team shot 21 percent from the field (14 for 65) and made only 11 of 30 free throws. "Defensively, we weren't able to contain Cleveland and they were able to hit their free throws."
PARK RAPIDS: Christenson 2 2-5 6, Domino 3 1-2 7, Carlson 2 1-2 7, Rittgers 0 2-2 2, Vaadeland 2 2-6 6, Booge 0 0-0 0, Yliniemi 0 0-0 0, Bateman 2 0-4 5, Lutz 1 2-4 4, Pierce 1 0-0 2, Olson 0 0-0 0, Grimes 0 0-4 0, Isaacson 0 0-0 0, Price 1 1-1 3. Totals: 14 for 65 (FG), 11 for 30 (FT).
MENAHGA: White 1 2-4 4, B. Tormanen 0 0-0 0, Pihlaja 1 2-2 5, Pho 3 0-0 6, Cleveland 9 14-17 35, S. Skoog 1 3-4 5, P. Skoog 1 0-0 2, J. Skoog 3 1-2 9, M. Tormanen 2 0-1 4, Haataja 0 1-2 1. Totals: 21 for 59 (FG), 23 for 32 (FT).
Halftime: Menahga 40, Park Rapids 21. Three-point field goals: Carlson 2, Bateman 1, Pihlaja 1, Cleveland 3, J. Skoog 2. Total fouls: Park Rapids 21, Menahga 23. Rebounds: Park Rapids 47 (Domino 9, Grimes 8, Vaadeland 8, Lutz 7, Christenson 5, Bateman 4, Rittgers 2, Booge 1, Carlson 1, Isaacson 1, Price 1). Assists: Park Rapids 2 (Carlson 2). Steals: Park Rapids 18 (Vaadeland 5, Carlson 3, Christenson 3, Bateman 2, Domino 2, Lutz 2, Pierce 1). Blocked shots: Park Rapids 6 (Vaadeland 2, Bateman 1, Booge 1, Christenson 1, Pierce 1). Turnovers: Park Rapids 32, Menahga 24.