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Girls Basketball: Thunderhawks rally to edge Warriors in final seconds

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Brainerd Warrior forward Lillee Hardee takes aim at the basket against the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks Tuesday at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery2 / 2

A second-half defensive lapse probably denied the Brainerd Warriors an opportunity to upset a team that had appeared in the last two Class 3A state tournaments.

Brainerd maintained a comfortable 10-point edge three minutes into the second half against Grand Rapids, but the Thunderhawks stormed back and eked out a 62-60 non-conference victory Tuesday at Brainerd High School.

Although the Warriors led four times by one point after Rapids went on an 11-point run, the outcome boiled down to the final seconds. With the teams tied at 60, and 1:17 remaining, the Thunderhawks held the ball until they were called for a charging foul with 20 seconds left.

But Brainerd turned it over in its half-court offense and fouled with 1.2 seconds remaining. Thunderhawks point guard Heaven Hamling, one of three veterans returning from the state tournament teams, swished two free throws for the final score.

Following a timeout, Brainerd's Cara Helgeson inbounded the ball to Regan McElfresh whose 3-point attempt from about 45 feet dropped well short.

"We've played this team really tough," Warriors coach Troy Nelson said. "I think we're very similar to each other. A loss stinks. The kids played their hearts out though. They came and they executed a lot of the game. They did a lot of really good things."

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Grand Rapids 62, Warriors 60

  • The key: Grand Rapids' Heaven Hamling sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining
  • Overall: Brd 6-4, GR 9-3
  • Next: Zimmerman at Brainerd 7:15 p.m. Friday.

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Hamling led all scorers with 21 points. Meara Beighley and Hannah DeMars, the other two Rapids veterans returning, contributed 17 and 12 points, respectively.

"(Hamling, Beighley and DeMars) are kind of our go-to players," Rapids head coach Kris Hamling said, "but it's really nice to see when girls do come off the bench that they're stepping up, putting in their two cents as well."

McElfresh finished with 13 points to lead Brainerd. Lexi Roby tossed in 11, Cara Helgeson 10 and Lillee Hardee added nine off the bench. Helgeson also collected a team-high eight rebounds, helping Brainerd to a 37-32 edge on the glass.

In the first, Hardee sparked Brainerd with seven points. Roby added seven and McElfresh six as the Warriors shot 52 percent (15 of 29) in the first and seized a 33-27 edge at the intermission.

The Thunderhawks, who were led in the first by Heaven Hamling's nine points, shot 40 percent (12 of 30) in the first during which the teams combined for 17 turnovers.

In the first three minutes of the second half, Brainerd built a 43-33 edge before DeMars spurred the Thunderhawks scoring eight points during their 11-point burst. The teams were tied four times the rest of the game and the lead changed hands 10 times until Rapids prevailed.

"We did a lot of really good things the first half," Nelson said. "We stopped doing a few of those things the second half. They went on a run, and we couldn't buy a bucket for a little bit. Then I thought we regrouped and came back and started doing those little things again, rebounding, cutting off the dribble drive. Unfortunately a couple plays down the stretch didn't go our way."

The loss snapped a 3-game win streak for Brainerd, which hadn't played since Dec. 22 due to the holidays.

For more photos go to

Grand Rapids 27 35—62

Brainerd 33 27—60


Heaven Hamling 21, Hannah DeMars 12, Meara Beighley 17, Maggie Miska 6, Liberty Blaine 3, Mya Roberts 3. FG 25-60 (42 percent). FT 9-11 (82 percent). 3-point 3-15 (20 percent). Turnovers: 12.


Courtney Russell 6, Lillee Hardee 9, Ashley Huber 4, Lexi Roby 11, Cara Helgeson 10, Regan McElfresh 13, Ally Brzezinski 5, Maddi Barnett 2. FG 24-57 (42 percent). FT 9-17 (53 percent). 3-point 3-7 (43 percent). Turnovers: 12.