The heat is officially on the Central Lakes College Raiders women's basketball team as it makes a push toward a berth in next month's state tournament.
The Raiders faced the heat and pressure Wednesday night and came away with a 62-48 drubbing of the Hibbing Cardinals.
"This was a must-win for us," Raiders coach Dennis Eastman said. "In order for us to even think about state, we have to win six games. Right now, this is our fourth win, so we've got two more we have to win just to be able to think about state."
The Raiders were able to overcome off-shooting nights by leading scorers Val Diedrich and Tara Storts. Diedrich finished with 12 points, about five below her season average. Storts had only three points as she struggled to find her shot.
Forward Beth Frost picked up the scoring slack for the Raiders as she scored a team-high 15 points. Point guard Melissa Sahlberg dropped in 10 points while Chelsie Pratt and Becca Nagel added eight apiece.
"I think I played all right," Frost said. "My shot hasn't been going in this year. I was kind of on and it felt pretty good."
The Raiders got a bit of a boost as they headed to the locker room for halftime. Leading 28-20, Nagel drained a three at the buzzer, giving CLC an 11-point lead.
Hibbing trimmed that lead to eight as Sarah Bonacci, who led all scorers with 18 points, dropped in a three to start the second half. The Raiders answered as Frost calmly hit back-to-back threes, giving CLC a double-digit lead it wouldn't relinquish the rest of the game. Frost's threes ignited a 13-5 Raiders run, extending their lead to 42-25.
CLC later went on a 12-3 surge, led by Sahlberg's four points and a Nagel three-pointer that put the lead out of the Cardinals' reach.
Hibbing didn't mount any serious threats the rest of the half as the Raiders cruised to their fourth North Division victory.
Eastman was happy to see other players step up and take control with Diedrich and Storts having off-nights. But he also knows that it will take the efforts of other players, along with Diedrich and Storts, to beat top-ranked Rainy River on Saturday.
"We can't expect Val or Tara to carry us," Eastman said. "This is the time of year that people get tired so we need other people to step up. Tonight, the players showed me they could.
"It's going to take that type of scoring effort from those other players, as well as Tara and Val, to beat Rainy River."
Eastman also believes the window of opportunity is closing on the Raiders and their chance to get to the state tournament, which will be played at CLC.
Hibbing Community College 20 28 -- 48
Central Lakes College 31 31 -- 62
Becky Puzel 11, Kristen Harsch 7, Danielle Price 12, Sarah Bonacci 18. Team totals: FG 20-61 (32 percent), FT 2-5 (40 percent). Conference -- 1-8. Overall -- 1-18.
CENTRAL LAKES (62)
Val Diedrich 12, Melissa Sahlberg 10, Cassey Veith 4, Beth Frost 15, Tara Storts 3, Chelsie Pratt 8, Becca Nagel 8. Team totals: FG 26-76 (34 percent), FT 6-8 (75 percent). Conference -- 4-5. Overall -- 5-12. Next game: host Rainy River 1 p.m. Saturday
3-point baskets -- CLC 4 (Frost, Nagel 2), HCC 6. Total fouls -- CLC 9, HCC 11. Halftime -- CLC 31, HCC 20.
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