HAWLEY, Minn. — The Pelican Rapids girls basketball team has developed a winning formula that Heart O’Lakes Conference foe Hawley hasn’t been able to conquer since December 2018.
Part of that formula for success Thursday was senior forward Anna Stephenson, who accounted for almost half of her team’s scoring. Stephenson was a barrier too difficult for the Nuggets to overcome as she poured in a game-high 25 points in Pelican Rapids’ 56-46 win over Hawley.
“Very good win for us. A big battle,” Vikings head coach Brian Korf said. “Hawley is very disciplined, very well coached. They’re a very skilled team and they shoot the ball very well. We’re very fortunate to come away with the win and very happy about it.”
The Vikings weren’t ready to give up their season-starting win streak Thursday, and it showed. They capitalized on easy looks and dominated in the paint with a high-pressure defense that made life tough for the Nuggets.
“We worked together tonight,” Stephenson said. “It’s always fun when your teammates click together, and it’s fun to play against people in your conference. They’re a good team.”
Pelican Rapids picked up all three wins against Hawley last season, but that wasn’t the only familiarity to Thursday’s win. The Vikings (6-0) preserved their undefeated season with the victory. Pelican Rapids, the defending Section 8, Class 2A champions, went 30-1 last season.
But the Vikings don’t look to last year, or their current mark.
"We don't really think about what happened last year," Stephenson said. "We’re 0-0 every day, and we’re working hard every day to get better.”
Hawley (5-2) opened the season 5-0, but now have back-to-back losses.
The Nuggets were the hot team early. Junior guard Kylie Crabtree poured in a quick seven points to give Hawley a quick 10-5 lead.
The Nuggets played suffocating defense early in the first half that made clean looks come at a premium for Pelican Rapids. It took almost three minutes for the Vikings to get their first non-free-throw bucket.
Stephenson was determined to turn it around for the Vikings, and delivered. The senior forward found ways to score, reaching double figures less than nine minutes in.
“Anna (Stephenson) is a very good basketball player. She played very well tonight,” Korf said. “She got to the basket, she hit some big shots for us. Made a couple free throws down the stretch for us. Very happy with her effort.”
After playing catch up for the first half of the frame, the Vikings pulled ahead for the first time at 16-14 on an Ellie Welch bucket. The teams played a back-and-forth rest of the frame, with neither allowing the other to get more than two points ahead.
Pelican Rapids had a slight height advantage down low and utilized that to gain momentum. The Vikings grabbed a narrow two-point lead heading into the second half, thanks to Stephenson, who broke a 25-25 deadlock in the final 30 seconds with a layup.
The Vikings put up eight unanswered points out of halftime to grab a game-high 10-point lead at 35-25. Greta Tollefson helped shoulder Pelican Rapids’ scoring load with 17 points Thursday.
“They do a lot for us — rebounding, shooting, scoring,” Korf said on Tollefson and Stephenson. “Very pleased with their efforts.”
Pelican Rapids turned up the defensive pressure and Hawley had trouble getting shots to fall. After nearly six minutes without a bucket, Kylie Crabtree drove to the basket to put up Hawley’s first points in the second half.
"The second half, we got a couple stops, which were huge for us," Korf said. "And then we got a couple easy looks at the basket that kind of gave us a little lead there."
Hawley didn’t get many fast-break opportunities or lucky bounces, but the Nuggets weren’t about to go away without a fight. Abby Rux brought the Nuggets within two (41-39) on her third 3-point bucket of the night.
Rux and Kylie Crabtree led Hawley’s balanced scoring attack with 11 points apiece, followed by a nine-point performance from Anna Steer and seven from Kaylie Crabtree.
Pelican Rapids went to the free-throw line twice in the last 57 seconds and hit three of those buckets to set up the game-clinching score.
Half: Pelican Rapids 27, Hawley 25
PR: Stephenson 25, Tollefson 17, Welch 6, Paulson 5, Korf 3.
H: Kylie Crabtree 11, Rux 11, Steer 9, Kaylie Crabtree 7, Fleming 4, Peterson 2, Rustad 2.