Braves hold off PR-B, return to section title game

Head coach Cody Pulju expected a battle when the Menahga girls basketball team played Pine River-Backus for the Section 5A North championship Tuesday night (March 5) at the Park Rapids Century School gym.

The Menahga bench - including (from left) Tara Hendrickson, Kate Hendrickson, Maryn Pinoniemi, Lela Peterson, Allie Pfeifer and Anita Lehto - celebrated after Cierra Ahlf hit a 3-pointer to give the Braves a 48-38 lead with 6:28 to play in a Section 5A playoff game against Pine River-Backus Tuesday (March 5) at the Park Rapids Century School gym. Menahga held on for a 58-57 victory to earn a return trip to the section championship game. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Head coach Cody Pulju expected a battle when the Menahga girls basketball team played Pine River-Backus for the Section 5A North championship Tuesday night (March 5) at the Park Rapids Century School gym.

Menahga edged the Tigers 62-57 in a regular-season meeting on Dec. 11. With a trip to the section title game on the line, Pulju was counting on another close contest in the rematch.

Despite getting in foul trouble, the No. 1-seeded Braves were able to build a 49-38 lead with 4:42 to play before holding off a late charge by the No. 2 seed for a 58-57 victory.

“It was exactly the game that we were expecting. Pine River-Backus is as good as it gets. They are really experienced and loaded with talent at all positions,” said Pulju. “We needed to play elite team defense and we tried to take away what they like to do offensively. They like to play inside out and are extremely good outside shooters. We did a great job all night long as we held them to only two 3-pointers. Our girls showed amazing heart and went out and wanted this game bad.”

Both teams struggled offensively at the start as two layups by Tara Hendrickson, a jumper by Alyssa Peterson, a layup by Greta Hillukka and a 3-pointer by Annika Aho gave Menahga a 14-9 lead with 8:19 to play in the first half.


A layup by Rylie Hirschey and a layup and jumper by Alyssa Semmler gave the Tigers a 15-14 lead at the 7:07 mark before a 3-pointer by Hillukka put Menahga in front 17-15 at the 6:30 mark. Two free throws and a layup by Peterson kept the Braves in front 21-19 with 3:29 to play in the first half before a 3-pointer by Hendrickson and a layup by Peterson gave Menahga a 26-22 lead at the break. Cierra Ahlf and Hillukka had to leave the game after picking up three fouls in the first half for the Braves.

Pine River-Backus opened the second half on a 9-2 run as Semmler and Gabby Rainwater hit jumpers, Olivia Adkins hit a 3-pointer, and Semmler had a layup for a 31-28 lead with 14:54 to play. A three-point play by Hendrickson and a layup by Peterson gave Menahga a 34-31 lead with 13:20 to go before a layup by Hirschey and a basket off a rebound by Rainwater produced a 35-34 lead for PR-B with 10:43 remaining.

Menahga responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by Peterson and Hendrickson for a 40-35 edge with 9:54 to go. The Braves would not trail again, but PR-B made things interesting down the stretch.

After Hendrickson went to the bench with her fourth foul, Peterson hit a jumper and a 3-pointer and Ahlf followed with a 3-pointer to push Menahga’s advantage to 48-38 with 6:28 remaining. After Peterson went to the bench with her fourth foul, Maryn Pinoniemi hit a free throw as the Braves led 49-38 with 4:42 to play.

PR-B mounted a late comeback as a layup by Bailey Wynn and a putback by Rainwater cut the gap to 49-42 with 3:55 to go. Hendrickson hit two free throws to make it 51-42 at the 2:44 mark, but three straight layups and two free throws by Rainwater cut the deficit to 53-50 with 1:12 remaining as Hendrickson fouled out. Layups by Wynn and Rainwater pulled the Tigers to within 55-54 with :48 showing.

After both teams exchanged turnovers, Peterson hit a free throw for a 56-54 lead with :19 remaining. PR-B had a reverse layup roll off the rim and Pinoniemi hit two free throws with :01 left for a 58-54 lead. Semmler’s 3-pointer at the buzzer concluded the scoring as the Braves held on despite missing seven free throws down the stretch.

Rainwater finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds to surpass 1,000 career points for the Tigers. Semmler (17) and Wynn (11) also hit double figures as PR-B ended the season with a 25-5 record.

Alyssa Peterson’s 20 points and Hendrickson’s 19 points and six rebounds led Menahga. Hillukka also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists as the Braves will carry a 28-1 record into a rematch with Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa for the section title Friday night (March 8) at Fergus Falls. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Menahga edged B-B-E 56-52 in last year’s section title game as the Braves earned their first trip to the state Class A tournament.


“I couldn't be more proud of our elite senior class and our amazing underclassmen for stepping up their game,” said Pulju. “We have been battled tested and have had to fight through adversity all season long and these girls stepped up and showed everyone how tough they are once again.”

PINE RIVER-BACKUS: Wynn 3 5-7 11, Rainwater 8 4-7 20, Adkins 1 0-0 3, Semmler 7 2-3 17, Hirschey 3 0-2 6, Lodge 0 0-0 0, Barchus 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 for 50 (FG), 11 for 19 (FT).MENAHGA: A. Peterson 7 4-6 20, M. Peterson 0 1-2 1, T. Hendrickson 5 7-11 19, Aho 2 1-2 6, Hillukka 2 1-5 6, Pinoniemi 0 3-4 3, Tormanen 0 0-0 0, Ahlf 1 0-0 3. Totals: 17 for 40 (FG), 17 for 30 (FT).Halftime: Menahga 26, PR-B 22. Three-pointers: Adkins 1, Semmler 1, A. Peterson 2, M. Hendrickson 2, Aho 1, Hillukka 1, Ahlf 1. Team fouls: PR-B 21, Menahga 20. Fouled out: T. Hendrickson. Rebounds: Menahga 24 (T. Hendrickson 6, Hillukka 6, A. Peterson 4, Ahlf 3, Aho 2, Tormanen 2, Pinoniemi 1). Assists; Menahga 9 (Hillukka 3, A. Peterson 2, Aho 2, M. Peterson 1, T. Hendrickson 1). Steals: Menahga 2 (T. Hendrickson 1, Aho 1). Turnovers: PR-B 11, Menahga 11.Braves oust Trojans The Braves got off to another slow start in a subsection semifinal game against Sebeka at Park Rapids on March 2, but used a 17-0 run late in the first half to spark a 60-42 victory.

Sebeka, the No. 4 seed, used a 3-pointer by Maya Lake and two 3-pointers by Kenzie Nelson to claim a 14-6 lead with 8:40 to play in the first half.

Menahga responded with a 17-0 run as a layup and jumper by Hillukka, two 3-pointers by Aho, and a jumper and layup by Hendrickson produced a 23-14 lead at the 3:43 mark. A 3-pointer by Peterson and a layup by Hillukka gave the Braves a 29-22 lead at the half.

A 16-4 run to open the second half pushed Menahga’s advantage to 45-26 with 12:48 remaining. Hendrickson’s two layups and 3-pointers by Hillukka and Martha Peterson made it 40-26 before Hendrickson followed a layup off a steal with a 3-pointer.

The Trojans used 3-pointers by Lake and Madi Bullock to cut the margin to 47-36 with 10:07 to play, but Menahga responded with a 3-pointer by Martha Peterson, a three-point play by Hillukka, a layup by Aho and a 3-pointer by Alyssa Peterson to seal the win.

Hillukka’s 20 points and eight rebounds and Hendrickson’s 19 points and nine rebounds led the Braves. Alyssa Peterson had six assists, Aho had four assists, and Martha Peterson had four steals and three blocked shots for Menahga, which defeated the Trojans 70-31 and 72-37 during the regular season.

Lake’s 11 points led the Trojans, who ended the season with a 17-10 record.


SEBEKA: Erickson 1 1-2 4, Nelson 2 0-0 6, Lake 4 1-1 11, Lillquist 0 0-0 0, Petersen 3 1-3 7, Rathcke 3 0-0 6, Bullock 3 0-2 8, Lee 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 for 61 (FG), 3 for 8 (FT).MENAHGA: A. Peterson 2 0-1 6, M. Peterson 2 0-0 6, T. Hendrickson 7 4-7 19, Aho 3 0-1 8, Hillukka 7 5-7 20, K. Hendrickson 0 0-0 0, Pinoniemi 0 1-2 1, Tormanen 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 for 52 (FG), 10 for 18 (FT).Halftime: Menahga 29, Sebeka 22. Three-pointers: Erickson 1, Nelson 2, Lake 2, Bullock 2, A. Peterson 2, M. Peterson 2, T. Hendrickson 1, Aho 2, Hillukka 1. Team fouls: Sebeka 18, Menahga 12. Fouled out: Nelson. Rebounds: Menahga 34 (T. Hendrickson 9, Hillukka 8, M. Peterson 5, Aho 5, A. Peterson 4, K. Hendrickson 2, Tormanen 1). Assists: Menahga 18 (A. Peterson 6, Aho 4, K. Hendrickson 3, T. Hendrickson 3, M. Peterson 1, Hillukka 1). Steals: Menahga 13 (M. Peterson 4, A. Peterson 3, Aho 2, T. Hendrickson 2, Pinoniemi 2). Blocked shots: Menahga 3 (M. Peterson 3). Turnovers: Sebeka 21, Menahga 12.

1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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