Grueling semis slug-out goes to Braham 49-39
To many Braham fans looking at the State brackets prior to the Class AA tourney start, this was the game they wanted: a battle against defending State champ Providence Academy in the Friday night finals on TV. The grueling ride took many turns, but it was the Bombers holding tough for a 49-39 victory.
“It was unbelievable! We wanted this so bad, and we were going to do whatever it takes,” said Becca Dahlman. “We got them into foul trouble– that’s one thing that helped us so much, just to get them out of the game. We attacked so well– we stepped up.”
The two teams’ playing history went back to the start of the 2011 season when the Bombers won by a whisker in the Breakdown Classic. At State that same season, Braham clipped the Lions by two points in a blood-bath semis on the way to the championship. It would be safe to say there’s not a lot of love between the two programs.
Going against the Lions’ packed zone, Dahlman knocked down two three-pointers, and Jenna Winter added a swish from the arc for an early 10-6 Braham edge. That lead grew to 23-11 as Dani Braund spun for a bucket on the block, Kayla Nickles popped a ‘3’, and Dahlman attacked for three more points.
Meanwhile, Providence was running their long sets, but Braham forced two five-second calls with its pressure defense. Braund’s steal against 6’1” center McKenna Happke and layup also played hugely in the early run. The defensive board work by the Bombers was another strength.
“Coach Malone told us to crash the boards and get every rebound we could,” said Hollenkamp who had 6 rebound against the taller Lions.
But 5’11” star guard Leah Szabla helped her team regroup as the Lions went on a 12-0 run to knot the game at 23-23. Two slicing drives by Dahlman kept Braham narrowly ahead 27-25 at the break.
The second half was a tight, nerve-wracking 18 minutes. Braund and Hollenkamp scored in close early on for Braham. On a Dahlman drive, Happke picked up her fifth foul and was gone at the 8:35 mark.
Free throws from Dahlman and Nickles slimly had Braham ahead 38-34. Then Szabla picked up two quick fouls, and she was gone with her fifth of the game with 4:20 to play. Soon after Dahlman was saddled with her fourth foul, but Nickles’ two free throws increased the Braham edge to 42-36.
With the Lions still within reach down the final minute, Dahlman came through with a stelllar play when she snared an inbounds pass and went the distance for a layup which made it 46-38. The Bomber bench exploded when the game was finally in hand.
“Very proud of the effort. They attacked us and got us into foul trouble. I had to sit Jaclyn Hollenkamp for a while in the first half, and she makes a difference for us, even though she’s just a ninth-grader,” said Coach Tim Malone. Adjusting to the slow-down pace, he said, “We average 82 points for a reason because we like to play one way– and that’s fast. Mostly, all we were trying to do is get in their faces and make them uncomfortable.”
“We’re not taller than any team we played. But we got a couple more rebounds than Providence, so we hit the boards just fine,” added Coach Malone.
“I just knew that we had to be scrappy and get on the boards. My ‘3s’ weren’t falling, so I had to stick with me defense and get after it,” said Nickles who endured a bleeding cut to the elbow during a scramble on the floor. “What we needed to overcome was the way they played their game. They played so slow, took time on their shots. At the very end, we controlled the pace of the game, and we came out on top.”
Braham 49, Providence Academy 39
Bomber stats (pts/reb/asst): Dahlman 25, 5, 3; Braund 7, 5, 1; Nickles 9, 4, 0; Winter 3, 3, 0; Hollenkamp 4, 6, 0; Bendickson 1, 0, 0.