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Late run lifts Braves past Pirates in playoffs

A game-ending 24-9 run lifted the Menahga boys basketball team to a 51-44 win at Verndale in the opening round of the Section 5A North tournament Tuesday night.

Menahga, the No. 10 seed, trailed 35-27 midway through the second half before rallying for the win.

A 3-pointer by Charlie Hodge and inside baskets by Jonah Howard and Owen Anderson offset 3-pointers by Verndale's Luke Weniger and Owen Korfe as the game was tied at 8-8 with 11:45 to play in the first half.

After Weniger hit another 3-pointer to give the Pirates a 15-8 lead, Menahga claimed a 21-20 edge at the 1:55 mark behind a 3-pointer by Zach Floyd, inside baskets by Tristan Aho, Howard and Hodge, and a 4-point play by Gavin Hillukka.

Two layups by Carter Schmitz gave Verndale a 24-21 lead at the break.

Weniger and Korfe hit 3-pointers to open the second half as Verndale claimed a 35-27 advantage before two free throws and two jumpers by Aho, two baskets off rebounds by Howard and a layup by Hodge gave the Braves a 40-37 lead with 5:22 to play.

Layups by Hodge and Floyd kept Menahga in front 46-42 with 1:16 left before a steal and four free throws by Hodge sealed the win.

Hodge finished with 15 points while Aho (11) and Floyd (9) combined for 20 points as the Braves, the No. 10 seed in the North, improved to 9-17. Howard pulled down 10 rebounds, Floyd had five assists, and Hodge and Hillukka combined for nine steals. Menahga prevailed despite making only 3 of 21 3-point attempts.

Weniger's 22 points and Korfe's 11 points led the Pirates, who went 7-for-23 on 3-pointers in falling to 10-16 on the season. Verndale, which lost to Menahga 62-60 on Dec. 16 and defeated the Braves 54-44 on Feb. 1, was the No. 7 seed.

"We knew it was going to be another 36-minute battle, just based on the familiarity of both teams. Verndale had been playing very well down the stretch, so we knew that we had to find a way to slow them up. The last 8 to 10 minutes of the game we were able to slow (Weniger and Korfe) up as a group and get enough stops," said Menahga head coach Jeremy Nordick. "I was pretty proud of our young guys and how they continued to stick with our game plan and finally finish off possessions on both ends of the floor. We continued to stay the course and play it out one possession at a time. We had a little cold streak shooting for a few minutes, but I felt that if we saw one or two go in, that we could possibly make a run. To have our young guys really step up down the stretch of the game was a lot of fun to watch."

MENAHGA: Hodge 5 4-5 15, Aho 3 5-6 11, Floyd 2 4-7 9, Howard 4 0-0 8, Wurdock 0 2-2 2, Hillukka 1 1-1 4, Anderson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 for 53 (FG), 16 for 21 (FT).

VERNDALE: L. Weniger 9 0-0 22, J. Weniger 1 0-0 2, Korfe 4 0-0 11, Schmitz 2 1-2 5, Holman 1 0-2 2, Steege 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 for 58 (FG), 1 for 4 (FT).

Halftime: Verndale 24, Menahga 21. Three-pointers: Hodge 1, Floyd 1, Hillukka 1, L. Weniger 4, Korfe 3. Rebounds: Menahga 24 (Howard 10, Floyd 6, Hillukka 3, Aho 3, Wurdock 2). Assists: Menahga 12 (Floyd 5, Aho 3, Hodge 2, Howard 1, Wurdock 1). Steals: Menahga 15 (Hodge 5, Hillukka 4, Floyd 3, Aho 2, Howard 1). Team fouls: Menahga 9. Turnovers: Menahga 9.