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Experience leads Braves in debut

Park Rapids' Amber Booge (left) went up to block a shot by Menahga's Tarah Cleveland during Tuesday night' season opener at the Area HIgh School gym.

Experience paid off for the Menahga girls basketball team in the season opener at Park Rapids Tuesday night.

The Braves had an advantage with the return of three starters and four other varsity letterwinners while Park Rapids featured a roster full of players filling key varsity spots for the first time.

Menahga relied on its experience to draw 24 fouls and turn 30 steals into easy baskets in opening the season with a 73-35 victory at the Area High School gym.

The Panthers - who had juniors Amber Booge and Nicole Price, sophomore Charity Ridlon and freshmen Megan Grimes and Katie Klein - starting on varsity for the first time, stayed within 9-6 before Menahga took control by going on a 23-5 run to claim a 39-19 lead at the half.

Ridlon opened the game with a layup before the Braves took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Shelby Pihlaja at the 17:11 mark. A jumper by Tarah Cleveland and a layup by Beth Tormanen gave Menahga an 8-2 edge at the 15:59 mark.

Layups by Tori Lauderbaugh and Klein pulled the Panthers to within 9-6 with 13:18 to play in the first half before Menahga followed a 7-0 run with an 11-0 spurt.

Three-pointers by Arielle Pihlaja and Cleveland and inside baskets by Alicia Ahlf and Cleveland pushed Menahga's lead to 27-8 with 5:01 to play in the first half.

After a jumper by Ridlon, Cleveland hit three free throws and scored inside to give Menahga a 32-11 edge at the 3:20 mark.

Two free throws apiece by Caitlan Isaacson and Ridlon and two jumpers by Hope Johnson were offset by seven Menahga free throws as the Braves carried a 39-19 lead into the intermission.

A layup by Lauderbaugh, a jumper by Booge and a basket off a rebound by Grimes kept the Panthers within 47-25 with 10:35 to play before Menahga sealed the win by going on an 18-6 run.

A layup by Shannon Skoog, a 3-pointer by Arielle Pihlaja, layups by Cleveland and Bradi Carlson, and a pair of jumpers and two free throws by Cleveland extended the Braves' advantage to 65-32 with 4:30 to play.

A basket off a rebound by Morgan Clements, a jumper by Hannah Allebach and a layup by Patricia Haataja capped off the scoring for Menahga, which had all 12 players contribute in the scoring column.

Cleveland led the Braves with 28 points, eight steals and four assists while Arielle Pihlaja added 12 points. Beth Tormanen had nine steals and six rebounds, Ahlf and Jenny Skoog grabbed nine rebounds each, Maria Tormanen had six rebounds and Shelby Pihlaja had four assists. Menahga made 29 of 40 free throws, including 18 of 28 in the first half, and turned the ball over only 13 times.

"I think we played OK for the first game of the year. Our offense really didn't click in our half-court setting, but I thought we did really well in our new half-court, aggressive, trapping man-to-man style defense that we've been working on putting in for the past year or so," said Menahga head coach Steve Schreiber. "We've talked a lot about moving from the good-team status to the great-team level. I think we are still moving in that direction, but have many small things we still need to improve on. The thing that impressed me the most was how deep we are. I honestly am not afraid to play all 12 of my girls in any situation. We still need to get better on defense and put our half-court offense together, but when we do, we will become a dangerous team to play."

Ridlon (9) and Grimes (7) combined for 16 points to lead the Panthers.

"We were hurt early with unnecessary fouls and bad decisions with the ball," said Park Rapids head coach Nic Lembcke. "Our half-court defense looked good, but we gave up too many easy baskets on turnovers. We need to get rid of the unnecessary fouls and turnovers. I saw a lot of good things, but our inexperience definitely showed."

MENAHGA: S. Pihlaja 2 0-0 5, B. Tormanen 1 3-6 5, A. Pihlaja 4 2-2 12, Cleveland 7 13-16 28, M. Tormanen 0 1-2 1, Allebach 1 0-0 2, Carlson 1 2-2 4, Clements 1 0-0 2, S. Skoog 1 0-0 2, J. Skoog 0 2-2 2, Ahlf 1 6-10 8, Haataja 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 for 54 (FG), 29 for 40 (FT).

PARK RAPIDS: Grimes 3 1-3 7, Klein 1 0-0 2, Booge 1 0-0 2, Ridlon 3 3-4 9, Price 0 0-0 0, Rittgers 1 0-0 2, Olson 0 0-0 0, Johnson 2 1-2 5, Isaacson 0 2-2 2, Lauderbaugh 2 0-0 4, Hanson 0 0-0 0, Hilmanowski 1 0-0 2. Totals: 14 (FG), 7 for 11 (FT).

Halftime: Menahga 39, Park Rapids 19. Three-point field goals: S. Pihlaja 1, A. Pihlaja 2, Cleveland 1. Total fouls: Menahga 16, Park Rapids 24. Rebounds: Menahga 42 (Ahlf 9, J. Skoog 9, B. Tormanen 6, M. Tormanen 6, A. Pihlaja 4, S. Skoog 3, Carlson 2, Cleveland 1, S. Pihlaja 1, Allebach 1). Assists: Menahga 15 (Cleveland 4, S. Pihlaja 4, B. Tormanen 2, J. Skoog 2, A. Pihlaja 1, M. Tormanen 1). Steals: Menahga 30 (B. Tormanen 9, Cleveland 8, A. Pihlaja 5, Ahlf 2, S. Pihlaja 1, Allebach 1, J, Skoog 1, S. Skoog 1, Haataja 1, M. Tormanen 1). Blocked shots: Menahga 3 (Carlson 1, J. Skoog 1, S. Skoog 1). Turnovers: Menahga 13.