1/26/2017 1:01:00 PM Vikings come out firing but 'Cats weather it and storm back for win
The Chisago Lakes and North Branch boys basketball teams faced each other a bit later in the season than normal, so they were both chomping at the bit to get on the court on Thursday, January 19.
On paper, it was a mismatch. Chisago Lakes blew North Branch out in both meetings last year. This year, North Branch only had three wins on the year going into the game and Chisago Lakes had seven, while playing a brutal schedule.
But, with it being a Hall of Fame induction night for North Branch, the home crowd turned out in droves to support the Vikings, and they gave them a show early on and the CL fans a scare.
North Branch’s Dylan Ramberg and Zach Gazda were the main catalysts in the first half. Gazda had multiple emphatic blocks and got some good looks down low to get easy baskets while Ramberg flew all over the court. He knocked down drives in traffic and open three pointers when he found space.
At one point, North Branch led by nine points at 30-21. The one constant for Chisago Lakes, and what kept them buoyed in the game early on during the North Branch onslaught, was the post play of senior Aron Johnson. Despite giving up a couple inches in height to Gazda, Johnson’s weight advantage allowed him to bull down low often against the overpowered Gazda. Johnson hit double digits early in the game, and after the first half had over half of Chisago Lakes points – 17 of their 33.
Johnson’s play kept Chisago Lakes close enough so when they made their late first half surge, it actually put CL ahead. Down by nine, the ‘Cats went on a 12-2 run to end the first half, highlighted by a couple Trevin Nelson three pointers and a Will Tinjum lay up.
Suddenly, North Branch’s shots were no longer falling with the ease they did in the early stages of the game. That trend continued into the second half as Chisago Lakes scored the first five points after the break to stretch their lead to six, and they never relinquished it again.
“We did make some adjustments on their shooters. We had to do a much better job of communication on the defensive side, how we were fighting through screens and our transition defense,” Chisago Lakes Head Coach Todd Dufault explained. “We were able to tighten up our defense and battle through some adversity to get the win. Credit to North Branch for a tough, hard fought game. It’s always hard to win on the road.”
Late in the second half, North Branch’s leading scorer Brady Brodin, and Dawson Linkert hit consecutive three pointers that pulled the Vikings to within five at 51-47, but CL ended the game on a 14-6 run to pull away late. The final score was 65-53 in favor of Chisago Lakes.
Chisago Lakes’ Johnson led all scorers with 23 points and Nelson added 16 to form a lethal inside-out combo. Arran Hickcox used his defense and explosiveness late in the game force turnovers and stretch the lead back to double digits. He ended the game with 11 points. Tinjum chipped in eight.
For the Vikings, Ramberg scored 13 points, but most of his damage was done early in the game, and Gazda had 12. Brodin added eight and Linkert had seven.
Upcoming Schedules The Vikings, losers of their past five games, traveled to Cambridge-Isanti earlier this week before hosting three straight home games against St. Francis, Big Lake and Monticello.
For the Wildcats, they’ve now won three in a row, including a huge section win over Hermantown on Saturday, January 21.
With the confidence that they can beat Hermantown, Chisago Lakes has to feel good about their postseason chances. Trevin Nelson had a big game against Hermantown, scoring 29 points.
They host three home games in a row, starting with Buffalo earlier this week. They’ll host Cambridge-Isanti on Friday, January 27 and St. Francis on Tuesday, January 31.