Elliot Smith

Bethlehem Academy senior Elliot Smith attempts a layup during Saturday's 70-49 victory against Blooming Prairie in Faribault. (Alec Hamilton/southernminn.com)

The Bethlehem Academy and Blooming Prairie boys’ basketball teams met for the second time Saturday morning with drastically different results from their first matchup.

The Cardinals built an 11-point lead at halftime and then pulled away from the Awesome Blossoms in the second half to win 70-49 to split the regular season series. The first game between the two teams was a 54-33 Blooming Prairie victory.

Bethlehem Academy improves to 2-7 and have won two straight. Blooming Prairie drops to 2-7 and have lost four in a row after winning two games the first week of February.

Bethlehem Academy head coach Melissa Hager said an improved mental approach is the reason behind the Cardinals’ recent surge.

“We had a great week of practice and we have had individuals really step up to lead in positive ways,” she said. “That has made a world of difference out on the court, because instead of when they make a mistake getting on each other, they’re picking each other up.”

On the other side, Blooming Prairie head coach Nate Piller talked about what changed from their first meeting to Saturday’s.

“They had their best player (junior Brady Strodtman) back tonight, he was injured the first time we played them and he played outstanding,” Piller said. “He had several 3-point baskets, made some tough jump shots and played really good defense.”

Strodtman led all scorers with 18 points, including three 3-pointers.

On top of Strodtman’s presence, Piller said Bethlehem Academy really outrebounded his team and the Blossoms had trouble converting against the Cardinals’ length. He added that his team is “trying to take advantage of easier transition opportunities” to help their offense but turned the ball over way too much to get into any flow.

The two teams were evenly matched through the first nine minutes. The final few minutes of the first half saw a bit of an offensive flurry from both teams but the Cardinals were able to score a little more at the basket for a 33-22 halftime advantage.

Blooming Prairie kept pace with Bethlehem Academy the first eight minutes or so of the second half, but the Blossoms were never able to make a run to close the game and the Cardinals extended their lead with some good shot-making down the stretch.

Like Blooming Prairie, Bethlehem Academy likes to run in transition but it was the Cardinals’ half-court offense that stood out in their win.

“We’ve been trying to work on our half-court offense as far as making sure we’re reading the defense and keeping the ball moving,” Hager said. “We’ve been doing a really good job of finding people down low and getting ins-and-outs and again that’s another difference maker when you have all people contributing on the floor.”

Junior forward Justin Simones, senior guard Kade Robb and senior forward Jarrett Malecha were also in double figures for the Cardinals. Simones had 14 points, all two-pointers either at the rim or from the mid-range, while Robb and Malecha each added 11.

Senior forward Chris Naatz led the Blossoms with 14 points but was the only one in double digits scoring. Junior guard Drew Kittelson had nine points for Blooming Prairie while senior guard Alex Miller added eight points.

Blooming Prairie travels to Medford on Tuesday and then are at United South Central on Friday, Feb. 26, for games three and four of a five-game road trip. Bethlehem Academy goes to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (NRHEG) on Tuesday and then hosts Hayfield on Thursday.

Reach Regional Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @APGSoMnHughes. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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