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Published March 19, 2011, 12:10 PM

Perham Stamps First Ticket to State with Win Over TRF

The players did more than just win one for Zach Gabbard. Perham’s boys basketball team won it for the whole town and arguably the entire region.

By: Associated Press,

The players did more than just win one for Zach Gabbard. Perham’s boys basketball team won it for the whole town and arguably the entire region.

A team that’s been faced with challenges prevailed again, this time in the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 finals. Perham, in its first section title game in school history, fought off rally after rally to beat Thief River Falls 55-44 on Friday at Concordia’s Memorial Auditorium.

Perham advanced to the Class 2A state tournament, which begins Wednesday.

“Zach shot his little Nerf ball through the hoop in his hospital room,” said Perham coach Dave Cresap after looking at a text message from Gabbard’s father, who was at the game. “He yelled as loud as he could.”

Perham (28-1) nearly two months ago went through one of the area’s most tragic events when Gabbard, a junior guard, collapsed during a game when his heart stopped. The episode, which has hospitalized Gabbard since, tested a team that’s played together since they were in second grade.

It made the town of a little more than 2,000 people and the region rally around the team.

All the support helped Perham rebound and dedicate the season to Gabbard. But there was one thing left to take care of: Thief River Falls.

“They played us really, really hard,” said junior forward Mark Schumacher, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. “There were times where I’m even telling our guards, slow down guys, slow down.”

TRF (21-8), by all means, didn’t make it easy. Perham jumped out to a 20-8 lead at one point in the first half until TRF rallied.

The Prowlers opened the second half on a 7-2 run, cutting the lead to two. Perham made a bit of a run before TRF mustered one more attempt, which fell short.

“They’re probably the best defensive team we’ve seen all year,” said TRF coach Chris McLean. “We just couldn’t get the shots we needed when we needed them.”

Perham junior point guard Jordan Bruhn had a lot to do with that. Though every player played a role, Bruhn, was the catalyst like he’s been all season.

Bruhn’s fastbreak dish to Sam Stratton gave Perham a 44-35 lead with 5:13 remaining.

“We knew we were going to have to improvise and that’s what we did,” said Bruhn, who finished with 7 points and 7 assists.

TRF cut the lead to 46-41 with 2:50 remaining. But two free throws by Nick Tobkin, only one of two seniors on the team, made it 48-41.

Then with 52 seconds remaining, Stratton sank a breakaway layup to seal the win at 50-41 – sending Perham to Wednesday’s 6 p.m. state tourney opening-round game at Williams Arena.

Cresap said Gabbard has been cleared by his doctors to attend next week’s state-tournament game where he’ll sit on the bench. Certainly, it will not be a moment to forget, which by the way, Cresap was more than happy to point out, there’s still basketball to play.

“Tomorrow, I gotta drive to Duluth and check out the Section 7 championship game,” said Cresap. “We gotta find out who we’re playing. Yeah, it’s a four-hour drive but for these kids, they’re worth it.”

Cresap’s statement came when fans and parents hugged players after receiving the championship trophy. When the public address announcer called every Perham’s name, it was met with an ovation. When Gabbard’s name was called last, Bruhn walked to center court holding his teammate’s No. 3 jersey. Once he accepted Gabbard’s winner’s medal, the place erupted again.

And who could blame this crowd for being loud.

Two months ago it was left in silence after watching Gabbard collapse at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.

Friday night, it was time to be loud again. After all, they did it for Zach.

THIEF RIVER FALLS (21-8): Williams 2 1-2 5 Gunderson 2 2-2 6 Onkka 5 0-0 11 Beito 1 0-0 2 Milks 3 6-6 16 Trontvet 0 1-1 1 Hruby 1 1-2 3. Totals 15 11-13 44.

PERHAM (28-1): Schumacher 5 4-4 14 Tobkin 2 2-4 7 Bruhn 2 2-5 7 Stratton 5 2-5 12 Cresap 5 0-3 12 Wiskow 1 1-2 3 Hein 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-23 55.

Half: PHS 24, TRF 16. 3-point goals: Onkka, Milks 2, Tobkin, Bruhn, Cresap 2. Total fouls: TRF 18, PHS 12. Rebounds: TRF 29 (Onkka 10), PHS 31 (Schumacher 10). Assists: TRF 4 (Beito 2), PHS 10 (Bruhn 7). Turnovers: TRF 12, PHS 9.

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