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January 21, 2019

12/20/2018 2:05:00 PM
Vikings beat by WBL and Grand Rapids as Zach Gazda injured

North Branch had very different games last week; one, a non-conference game against one of the biggest schools in the state in White Bear Lake, and another, a section match up against familiar foe Grand Rapids.

Despite both games resulting in losses for North Branch, they weren’t very competitive against the Bears, while they stayed strong against Grand Rapids throughout.

White Bear Lake 78, North Branch 48
“The Bears have great size, speed and they play with great energy, and they showed it on Tuesday,” Head Coach Alex Kuhlman.

The game featured a combination of a very slow start from North Branch and some blistering hot shooting from White Bear Lake, and that resulted in an early 37-7 lead for White Bear Lake.

From then on, North Branch played even with WBL, but starting down 30 is too much to overcome, especially against a good team. “I think playing teams like this helps prepare us for our conference schedule and playoffs down the line,” Kuhlman explained, as NB’s early season non-conference schedule has been brutal.

Drew VanEerden had his best game of the year. He ended up with 22 points, going 4-of-8 on three-pointers and 6-for-6 at the line. He also added six rebounds. “Drew was awesome to watch against White Bear,” Kuhlman said after the contest.

Zach Gazda contributed 12 points and six rebounds and helped hold WBL big man Jeremy Beckler to 12 points and seven rebounds. Beckler came in averaging 32 points and 12.5 rebounds in White Bear Lake’s two wins.

Grand Rapids 71, North Branch 61
The Vikings played in a much more competitive game when they hosted the Thunderhawks from Grand Rapids on Saturday, December 15.

Despite the loss, it was one of the best efforts of the year for the Vikings, considering the competition. They led 34-31 at one point in the first half, but they couldn’t hold on to that lead through the second half.

Grand Rapids just crashed the boards harder in the second half, and the second chances caused the North Branch defense fits, which led to foul trouble. The Thunderhawks ended up outscoring NB 21-2 at the free throw line, which was a bit too much for the Vikes to overcome.

The rebounding issues crept up pretty quickly after senior center and captain Zach Gazda went down with an injury in the first half. The Hawks immediately ripped off a 10-0 run when he went down. “Losing Zach definitely hurt us, especially defensively, but I was proud of the way our guys competed after the injury,” Kuhlman said.

Conner Hartmann had 22 points in Gazda’s absence, shooting 10-of-12, and he added six rebounds. VanEerden had another strong game, scoring 17 points, grabbing six boards and swiping three steals. Carter Whitman had one of the best all around games of his career, scoring nine points, securing seven rebounds, and dishing out six assists while grabbing three steals. “Carter did a great job controlling the pace and getting to the rim for our offense,” Kuhlman explained.

Freshman Adam Rehm came in for Gazda and chipped in nine points in the loss.

The grueling non-conference continues this year as the Vikings took on previously 5-0 Pine City on Tuesday, and then host 4-1 Stillwater on Thursday, December 20 before the Christmas break. Those games are tough with a full lineup, but if Gazda were to miss any significant amount of time, the hill to climb will be even tougher for North Branch. Kuhlman said he didn’t currently have a timetable on Gazda’s return, but that he would have a better idea by the end of the week.

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