Perham honors stricken teammate in win against Lourdes (video)
MINNEAPOLIS — The Perham Yellowjackets paid tribute to their inspirational leader Saturday as they posed with the Class AA state basketball championship trophy.
As cameras flashed, the players and coaches each held up three fingers. Even though Zach Gabbard — who wore No. 3 for Perham until suffering a sudden cardiac arrest during a game on Jan. 20 — wasn't physically in the picture, the team made sure his contributions to the school's first-ever boys basketball title would always be remembered.
Nick Tobkin led Perham (31-1) with 15 points and Jordan Cresap added 12 as the Yellowjackets beat Rochester Lourdes 45-37. The game was sluggish at best, but that likely didn't matter to Gabbard, who watched from his hospital bed after attending Perham's other tournament games.
Gabbard was a constant source of inspiration since his life-threatening scare. The junior forward drew standing ovations from the Target Center crowd earlier in the week when he was introduced with the team. On Friday, he surprised the crowd when he stood up from his wheelchair and walked onto the court before Perham's double-overtime victory over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
"Today, he was just a little worn out," Perham coach Dave Cresap said. "He couldn't get out of bed. His doctor said he needed to rest today. We called and asked for his will and his strength, and he gave it to us and we were able to persevere and win a state championship for him."
After playing a combined six overtime periods in Friday's semifinals, the Yellowjackets and the Eagles (24-8) were pretty tired, too. Saturday's title game plodded along as both teams struggled from the floor early.
Lourdes shot 16-for-49 from the floor, including 2-for-18 from 3-point range. The Eagles also went to the free-throw line seven times, making only three attempts.
"You can't shoot 32 percent and 11 percent from three and expect to win a state title," said Eagles coach Jim Daly.
Making matters worse for Lourdes was the absence of Joe Fritzjunker. The senior forward hurt his back in Friday's quadruple-overtime victory against Redwood Valley and didn't play at all against Perham.
"That made our bench, which was short to begin with, really short," Daly said.
Perham found its touch in the second half. Rochester Lourdes led 23-22 midway through the half before Perham reeled off an 18-2 run that effectively clinched the Yellowjackets' first title.
Tobkin scored seven of his team's final 12 points to help Perham slowly pull away.
Chris Eickenmeyer led the Eagles with 12 points.
After the game the talk turned to Gabbard, whose name was announced during the medals ceremony and drew a loud ovation from the crowd.
"He's always here in our heart," Tobkin said. "He was the one reason we wanted to get here. He just gave us that much more motivation and inspiration. When we're down, he's always right there to pick us back up like we are for him."