Proctor girls basketball coach Matt Solberg chatted with Hermantown coach Beth Clark before their teams played on Friday night in Hermantown, and it looked about as casual as it gets.
“We’re friendly rivals,” Solberg said.
No doubt, and while the teams are in different classes, it’s still fun when they get together, especially when a Lake Superior Conference title is on the line.
Sam Parendo and Liz Frase scored 17 points apiece as Proctor downed host Hermantown 64-61 as the top-ranked teams in the News Tribune’s large-school rankings finished tied for the LSC title. Hermantown downed Proctor 47-32 in the teams’ first meeting Dec. 14 in Proctor after the Rails hit the offensive brakes.
“It’s always exciting when we play,” said Parendo, the daughter of Rails assistant coach Derek Parendo. “Once we decided to rebound and box out and play as a team, that really helped. We were making that extra pass on offense. After what happened in that first game, it was nice to beat them this time around. We were pretty disappointed with that loss, so we’ll take the tie.”
And call it a truce.
Sam Pogatchnik scored 13 of her 16 points in the first half to stake the Rails (21-3) to a 33-25 halftime lead. Parendo added 11 and Frase had nine, accounting for all of Proctor’s points at the break.
Hermantown (22-3), meanwhile, playing its third game in four days, appeared sluggish. Bryton Kukowski, who received a touching tribute from younger sister Jessi before the game as part of Senior Night, had 11 points of her 13 points in the first half to lead the Hawks while Ava Asgaard had eight of her 17 points.
The deficit, however, didn’t last long as Hermantown drained two 3-pointers and made a couple transition baskets to suddenly lead 35-33 after 10 unanswered points to start the second half.
“We came out guns ablazing,” Clark said. “We got ourselves right back in the ball game, which is what we wanted to do. At halftime we said we wanted to shoot better in the second half, and we did.”
Elly Schmitz had nine of her 13 points in second half for Hermantown,
Morgan Nylund had only four points for Hermantown, but she played tough defense on Schmitz and drained a 3-pointer from the corner that allowed Proctor to seize a 57-50 lead in the closing minutes. The Hawks could never quite recover after that as they had their seven-game winning streak snapped. Proctor sophomore forward Payton Rodberg made a couple key layups breaking the press at the end but got hurt in the waning seconds, but Solberg said it appeared she would be OK.
“We knew it was going to be a war,” said Solberg, whose voice was hoarse afterward, part of illnesses going through the Proctor school system that fortunately hasn’t inflicted his team.
Hermantown appears headed for the No. 1 seed in Section 7AAA, with Grand Rapids, Hibbing and Princeton jockeying for position behind them.
Clark, a 32-year coaching veteran, was honored for reaching 500 wins earlier this season with a surprise ceremony on Thursday after the Hawks’ 53-39 victory over Esko.
“We came into the season underneath the radar,” Clark said. “Come playoff time, we want to be that team people don’t want to play. We’ve won a few games, so we’re not invisible. We’ve beaten some quality teams, so it’s nice to have those accolades, but it’s also nice to kind of stay under the radar.”
Proctor knows the feeling after finishing sixth at the Class AA state tournament last year. Parendo said a state championship is the goal, but the Rails have to get there first. Duluth Marshall, Mesabi East, Esko, Virginia and Moose Lake-Willow River are among the teams looking to be the spoiler.
“We can’t look past our section because we know it’s one of the tougher ones,” said Parendo, who will play college basketball at Wisconsin-Superior. “We won’t count anyone out. We definitely have a little bit of a target on our back.”
And that target has only grown larger.
“Growing up, that’s what we always wanted, but now we realize the reality,” Parendo said, laughing.
Proctor — Sam Pogatchnik 16, Liz Frase 17, Sam Parendo 17, Morgan Nylund 4, Katelyn Marunich 2, Hailie Evans 2, Payton Rodberg 6. Totals 22 10-16 64.
3-point goals — Pogatchnik 3, Frase 3, Parendo 3, Nylund.
Hermantown — Ava Asgaard 17, Brita Birkeland 8, Kora Parkinson 1, Maiah Christianson 9, Bryton Kukowski 13, Elly Schmitz 13. Totals 21 11-16 61.
3-point goals — Asgaard 3, Birkeland 2, Christianson, Schmitz 2.