by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
At tournament time, the best team doesn’t always win, Rogers coach Joe Belka counseled his team before sectionals started.
“I was telling them, that’s one of great things about March, one of the reason we get so excited about the tournaments,” Belka said, in reminding his team there’s no second-chances from now on.
The coach sadly echoed those sentiments after the Royals were upset by the Bemidji Lumberjacks 44-41 in the Section 8AAAA semifinals on Saturday at St. Cloud State, ending their season with a 19-9 record.
Carey Woods, Bemidji’s 6-1 guard whose 3-pointer with :12 left (and 16 rebounds) beat Elk River 67-64 on Tuesday, took down Rogers, too, with 19 points, five steals and eight rebounds.
“I am in a state of shock,” said Belka, with his ashen-faced players appearing the same as they filed out the door of Halenbeck Hall. “I truly believed when we got on the bus this morning, we would come home preparing for a section championship game. In my heart of hearts I still feel we are the better team, but Bemidji played just a little bit better then us today.”
Bemidji, a modest 15-12 overall, including a 1-5 stretch late in the season, has tumbled both the Elks and Royals and now face Moorhead (17-9) in the finals.
“Give them credit. They played hard and they made the big shots when they needed them,” said Belka.
With both teams struggling mightily on field goal shooting, Bemidji did three things particularly well — they made 16 steals, they cashed 15 of 19 free shots, and, despite being considerably smaller than Rogers, kept the ball away from 6-foot-8 center Michael Schreiber, holding the 22-ppg star to five points.
“We are very active defensively,” said coach Josh Brown. “We always tell the kids to look for tips, to get a hand up and tip the ball. We’re not big so we have to use our speed.”
A matchup zone did the trick in bottling up Schreiber, who got just five shots, making two. Connor Sullivan, a 6-6 senior, had the main job of shadowing Schreiber, with guards helping out whenever the ball got inside.
The Royals needed some outside shots to loosen things up for their big guy, but made only 5-for-19 outside the arc and 14-for-39 overall.
“During the season we’ve usually done a good job knocking down some outside shots, but we didn’t have that today,” said Belka. ” We tried to get the ball in to Michael at times but it was just too congested. They (Bemidji) had no reason to come out.”
Senior guard Austin Barbeln and senior forward Josh Turnquist led Rogers with 10 points each. Freshman Gunnar Bloom, backup point guard, supplied nine points and three steals.
Bemidji and Rogers each average in the mid 60’s but neither could get going on this day, not even Woods, the game high scorer, who hit a 3-pointer right away but missed his other 10. Bemidji was 3-for-19 outside the arc.
“I thought we played really good defense,” said Brown, “and lucky for us, both teams were cold. We didn’t shoot well but they didn’t either.”
“We played hard on defense,” echoed Belka. “A team averaging 66 points only got 44 on us.”
Most crucial defensive play of the game was Fields batting away a pass and near midcourt and and turning it into a dunk that tied the score 35-35. The spark generated by that play continued as Mitch Brown sank a 3-point shot, then two free throws, to give Bemidji a 40-35 edge with 1:50 left.
Barbeln countered with a 3-pointer for Rogers. Brown missed a free shot, but Bemidji got the rebound, and Woods was fouled and drilled two for a 42-38 lead with :44 left.
Rogers threw away a pass but Bloom stole the ball back and had a clear shot to the hoop. Unfortunately he missed the layup. Cody Rutledge rebounded for Bemidji and was fouled. Bemidji was 13-for-15 up to that point but Rutledge missed two, a big break for Rogers.
On the other end, Turnquist sank a 3-pointer from the corner and Rogers was still in business, down 42-41.
The Royals sent Brown to the line again with 5.8 seconds left and he swished them both. The Royals got one shot off, a 24-footer by Barbeln that hit the front iron and bounded high in the air while the horn sounded.
“I love this team and they played hard today,” said Belka. ‘”The seniors are going to be missed. It’s always hard to say goodbye this time of year.”
Seniors making their exit were Schreiber, Barbeln, Turnquist, Garrett Hol, Chase Cleveland, Nick Runge, and Jack Anderson.
Bemidji 44, Rogers 41
Bemidji ……. 20 24 – 44
Rogers ……. 22 19 – 41
Bemidji – Cody Rutledge 1 (6 reb, 4 stl), JC Cervenka 3, Connor Sullivan 8 (8 reb), Mitch Brown 7, Carey Woods 19 (8 re, 6 stl), Richard Seado 3 … Team: 13-47 FG (3-18 3FG), 15-19 FT, 33 rebounds, 18 turnovers, 16 steals, 14 fouls
Rogers – Austin Barbeln 10 (3 ast, 2 stl), Michael Schreiber 5 (7 reb), Josh Turnquist 10 (3 ast, 5 reb), Nathan Roehl 2, Gunnar Bloom 9 (3 stl), Chase Cleveland 3, Sam Spilles 2 … Team: 14-39 FG (5-19 3FG), 8-11 FT, 29 rebounds, 23 turnovers, 10 steals, 17 fouls.