Considering all that Minneapolis North has been through this season, with the deaths of two young people with close ties to the program, getting to a state championship game is more than just the byproduct of a successful basketball program. It's an affirmation of coming together in response to tragedy.
The Polars used an 18-0 blitz early in the first half to establish a big lead, then leaned on their defense and quickness to hold off Perham 62-46 in the Class 2A semifinals Friday at Target Center.
After a one-year absence, North (23-9) will be playing for another championship Saturday. The Polars won back-to-back Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2017 before moving up to Class 2A last year.
North coach Larry McKenzie said basketball has been the Polars' refuge when things got tough.
"We had a couple of days this year when we couldn't even practice because of them losing friends and the emotion of that," he said. "We had to take a couple of days just to support our kids."
Quitting was never an option. Instead, the North players found strength in each other.
"We never thought this was a lost year or that we weren't going to make it," said senior point guard Eli Campbell, whose back-to-back three-pointers spurred their big first-half run. "You've got to have the mind-set that you're going to make it, no matter what happens."
Hardened by circumstances and a tough schedule that left them with nine losses, the Polars played with urgency throughout against the Yellowjackets, feeling that getting to a state championship game would be their contribution to the healing process.
"We're from the North Side. We don't got what everybody else got," Campbell said. "So we got to make something out of nothing."
Added senior Nasir El-Amin, who had a team-high 13 points, "We make the story better."
Sophomore center Davon Townley Jr. added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Josh Jeziorski had 15 points and Finn Diggins 14 for Perham (30-2).