The Parkers Prairie girls’ basketball team will go into the playoffs against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on Thursday night having lost two of their last three games.
Not exactly the way you want to enter the tournament, right? But to hear the Panthers’ players and head coach talk about it, it’s hardly time to hit the panic button. Not after playing three opponents with a combined record of 66-9.
“It was 100 percent beneficial,” senior guard Tamara Schmidt said. “It helps us so much for the playoffs so we can get ready to play the top teams and win.”
Parkers Prairie culminated that stretch by welcoming in a 24-1 Upsala team on Tuesday night. It was a game that easily lived up to the hype in a match-up of two teams ranked in the top six of the latest Class A polls. The two teams went back and forth in the second half before the Cardinals finally prevailed 82-78 in overtime.
After the game, the Panthers chose to dwell on the positives more than the negatives as they get set to try and tackle their ultimate goal of reaching the state tournament over the next couple weeks.
“It was a great experience,” sophomore guard Micaela Noga said after scoring a team-high 25 points. “I’m so glad we got to go through this before the playoffs. I mean, we have not had a game like this the whole year. We played in Sebeka, but this game wasn’t like Sebeka. Tonight, we were all there. We were all in.”
Noga was right. The Panthers had nothing to hang their heads about after this loss. They were admittedly flat in a 62-55 loss at Sebeka on February 21 as they watched a nine-point lead slip away in the second half.
That wasn’t the case against the Cardinals. Parkers Prairie didn’t lose the game last night, Upsala went out and won it behind a dominant performance from junior guard Aimee Pelzer.
Noga hit what she thought was the game winner on a runner off the glass that gave Parkers Prairie a 71-69 lead with 3.2 seconds left. That proved to be too much time for Pelzer. She received the inbounds pass near midcourt before driving the lane and releasing a left-handed layup over the defense to send the game to overtime.
Pelzer was huge for her team in the game’s biggest moments. She scored five straight in the second half after Parkers Prairie had stretched the lead to six. She finished with 38 points in the game and 27 after halftime. She did it in a variety of ways, hitting four threes and using her body to shield a defender in the lane before throwing it off the glass. Her six straight free throws in overtime secured the win for the Cardinals down the stretch.
“I don’t see anyone around this area like that,” Noga said. “She’s definitely the first one, and it brings up my game just as much as her’s, guarding each other and trying to stop each other.”
Upsala needed every one of her points to fend off an impressive shooting display by Parkers Prairie in the second half. The Panthers overcame a seven-point deficit at the break by scoring 27 points in the first eight minutes after halftime.
Schmidt was the catalyst. The senior guard hit four of her team’s seven threes in the second half. She finished with five triples on the night and was second on the team with 21 points.
“After I made the first one or two, I started thinking that I got to make them all because we need it,” Schmidt said. “After you make a couple, you’re just in it.”
Both teams finished with four players in double figures. Madison Dorn and Ally Taylor each added 12 for Parkers Prairie as the Panthers put up 50 points in the second half and overtime. That’s exactly the kind of offensive production this team is looking for heading into the playoffs.
“We were moving the ball, getting good shots,” head coach John Noga said. “It was pretty much the same shots we were getting the first half, we just made more of them. I feel good with where we’re at right now. I think we’re in a good spot. Overall, we’re pretty healthy. [Upsala] is a good team. They are a team that has a really good shot of making it to state.”
That’s the kind of competition the Panthers wanted to face in the week leading up to the tournament. They have outscored teams by almost 40 points per night this year and hadn’t had a game come down to the final seconds until last night. That could prove beneficial as Parkers Prairie turns its attention to the playoffs.
“I think my team is confident,” Schmidt said. “This is it. We have four seniors, and if we don’t do it now, we’ll never have a chance to. We worked so hard all summer for this – four hours a day, so if we don’t get it now, it will feel like a wasted summer.”
* The above video is of Micaela Noga’s go-ahead shot with 3.2 seconds left against Upsala on Tuesday night.