12/19/2013 12:58:00 PM Vikings scratching and clawing their way to close contests
by JEFF NORTON
St. Michael-Albertville 66, North Branch 55 Three basketball games in four days can wear on anyone, and when the opponents won a combined 70 percent of their games last year, the schedule can get especially brutal. The North Branch boys basketball team opened just that type of schedule early last week when they took on defending Mississippi 8 Conference Champions St. Michael-Albertville on Tuesday, December 10. The Knights raced out to an early lead over North Branch, using their own efficiency and North Branch’s lack of. The Vikings shot an abysmal percentage from the field on the night, hitting only 27 percent of their shots.
The worst of it came from their long-distance game, which is usally their strength. North Branch shot just five-of-26 from three point land. The clanked shots supplied St. Michael-Albertville with an 11 point halftime lead at 36-25. In the second half, the shooting didn’t get much better for North Branch, although St. Michael joined them in the brick parade. On the night, NB hit just 17 of the 61 field goals they attemtped. They were a strong 16-of-22 from the charity stripe, and that helped keep them in the game against the Knights. The two teams played evenly throughout the second half and St. Michael came away with the 66-55 victory at home. Senior Travis VanElsberg scored 21 points, but he took 22 shots to get that, including hitting just one-of-10 three-point shots. Matt Blomquist added 11 points for North Branch.
Mahtomedi 50, North Branch 48 The Vikings shot a bit better against the Zephyrs and used a furious second half rally to erase a large halftime deficit in their second game of the week. The comeback nearly shocked Mahtomedi after they had built a 15 point lead at halftime at 35-20. North Branch just wasn’t hitting their shots, and it looked like the Zephyrs might cruise to a blowout. But, the Vikings locked up their defense in the second half and their best offense was their good defense. They hit some shots in transition and started to chip away at the lead. The Vikes got it down to two points very late in the game, but they couldn’t overcome the hole they had dug themselves and fell 50-48.
When they slowed the pace down in the second half, they became a bit more dangerous and began to find a rhythm. Dylan Dahle was the surprise star of the game for the Vikings. He scored 18 points and 50 percent shooting. He hit four of his seven three point shots. However, four different Vikings attempted a shot without a make, going a combined 0-for-11 in what was one of the big differences in the game. The Vikings also only shot six-of-14 from the free throw line. Junior Kyle Burnside had five points and 10 rebounds. VanElsberg chipped in 12 points and four steals for the Vikes.
Hermantown 67, North Branch 63 On their second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, the Vikings were visibly wore out as the game went on against Hermantown. The Vikings jumped a double-digit lead in the first half and looked like they might pull the upset off over a Hawk team that went 24-4 last year and is a favorite in Section 7AAA this year. But, the wear and tear from the marathon of closely contested games set in in the second half and the Hawks made a strong comeback to beat North Branch by three points. North Branch earned their early lead on the strength of some quality shooting, something that had eluded them the past few nights. Both VanElsberg and Dillon Harms hit over 50 percent of their shots, including a combined five-for-eight from long distance.
However, as the pair cooled off in the second half, Hermantown, a team that had only played two games in the last 11 days because of a postponement, began their surge. They passed the Vikings midway late in the second half and then were able to hit their free throws and hold the Vikings off late for a 67-63 win. VanElsberg led the Vikings with 16 points on six-of-11 shooting, six rebounds and four assists. Harms had 13 points and four-of-five shooting and three rebounds to go along with it. Blomquist chipped in another 10 points for NB. The Vikings played conference and county rival Chisago Lakes earlier this week, check out page 11 in The Press for the full recap of that game. North Branch travels to Highway 95 rival Cambridge-Isanti on Thursday, Dec. 19 before their long Christmas break. After the C-I contest, North Branch won’t be back in action until the calendar reads 2014, on Tuesday, January 7 at Buffalo.