February 20, 2004 at 10:02 a.m.
St. Francis 43
With a perfect conference record in tact, the Vikings took a break from Rum River play last Tuesday, hosting St. Francis in a non-conference tilt. It didn’t take long for the Saints to find out what every team in the Rum already knows; these guys are good.
Good yes, but when their defense takes control like it did against St. Francis, the Vikings have the ability to be great.
North Branch set the tone in the first, forcing the Saints into five quick turnovers, holding them to just four points through the first eight minutes of play. Meanwhile, Matt Fletcher single handedly scored 10 all by himself in the first. Britt Baumann and Matt Nelson accounted for the other seven, leading to a 17-4 Viking lead through one quarter.
“We started out playing good defense and we were very patient on offense which let us get off to a good start,” said Bill Baumann, North Branch boys basketball head coach.
Things evened up in the second as St. Francis actually outscored the Vikings 11-10, still, North Branch had a 13 point cushion, enabling them to hold a 27-15 lead at the half. Reminiscent to the first, Fletcher and Nelson were all over the court, combining for eight in the second.
The North Branch lead grew to as many as 15 in the third quarter as the Vikings slowly put the Saints away. Fletcher, Tony Beaver, Baumann, Jake Anderson, and Bowie McClaskie all scored in the third for North Branch, pushing their three quarter lead to 43-28. Most, if not all of the Vikings damage was done from the inside. As a matter of fact, North Branch hit just one three-pointer in the second half, connecting for four in the entire game.
“St. Francis wanted to take away the three-point shot from us but we were really patient and got some good looks inside in the second half,” remarked Baumann.
Those good looks continued to come in the fourth as the Vikings sealed the win, pushing their lead to as much as 17 at one point before St. Francis clawed back, settling on a 56-43 loss. Fletcher scored six in the fourth for North Branch, giving him 26 for the game. McClaskie, Beaver, Nelson, and Matt Warren also scored for the Vikings down the stretch.
While Fletcher led the way with 26, Nelson chipped in with nine, Baumann and McClaskie each had six. As a team, the Vikings shot over 62 percent from the field in the game.
“Matt Fletcher was our only player in double figures, but we had four players with at least five or more points,” explained Baumann. “We had some key passes to get us some easy buckets.”
North Branch 56
St. Francis 43
1 2 3 4 F
St. Francis 4 11 13 15 43
North Branch 17 10 16 13 56
Fletcher 26, Nelson 9, McClaskie 6, Baumann 6, Beaver 5, Anderson 2, Warren 2.
North Branch 73
Pine City 53
While their defense was the story three nights earlier, last Friday versus Pine City, the Vikings offense got back on track, especially from beyond the arc where North Branch hit 17 three-pointers in the game, seven alone in the first quarter.
The Vikings were so deadly in the first from three-land that seven of their eight baskets in the quarter were threes. Matt Fletcher hit three, Britt Baumann two, Jake Anderson and Matt Nelson each nailed one, giving North Branch a 23-12 lead.
Despite the early deficit, the Dragons mounted a rally early in the second, starting the quarter with a 6-0 run to cut the Viking lead to five. But a Baumann three brought it back to eight less than a minute later before another Baumann trey along with two from Anderson catapulted the North Branch advantage to 14 at the break.
“We finally got our offense back on as we found the range,” remarked Bill Baumann. “We had been struggling for the last couple of games to get some consistency. Hopefully this will put us back on track.”
It sure did the job versus Pine City. Leading 37-23 after two, the Vikings outscored the Dragons 16-12 in the third, extending their lead to 18. Baumann, Fletcher, and Anderson again drained three-pointers giving North Branch 14 threes through three quarters. On other side of the court, Pine City had managed just two.
“It was nice to see Jake Anderson and Britt Baumann hitting some shots as it will take some of the burden off Matt Fletcher,” replied Baumann. “We are starting to get a better feel in our rotation as we finally have everyone back. It will be important in the next couple of games to start to get some continuity. Bowie McClaskie, Greg Moriarty, and Ben Stenberg are starting to settle into their roles. Matt Nelson is becoming more comfortable and Tony Beaver continues to do all the little things for us.”
Leading by 18 heading into the final quarter of play, Pine City and North Branch traded baskets the rest of the way. For the Vikings, Fletcher refused to let the Dragons back into the game by sinking three three-pointers in the fourth, accounting for nine of his game high 26 points. When it wasn’t Fletcher, chances are good Britt Baumann was involved as the senior added five. Simply put, Pine City could never close the gap, trailing by as much as 22 with under a minute to play before two late Dragon free throws made the final score 73-53. The win kept several streaks in tact for the Vikings, extending their perfect conference record to 13-0, extending their winning streak to 12 games, and extending their season record to 18-3.
“We have been getting away with some pretty basic mistakes in some of our past games but our schedule has tightened up with the last three games and we are starting to execute better,” commented Baumann. “That is good because we will have to be executing well by tournament time.”
For the second straight game, Fletcher paced the Vikings with 26 points. Baumann finished with 22 and Anderson had 14. For the game, the Vikings shot 69 percent from the floor and 55 percent from three-point. How much better can they execute?
North Branch 73
Pine City 53
1 2 3 4 F
North Branch 23 14 16 20 73
Pine City 12 11 12 18 53
Fletcher 26, Baumann 22, Anderson 14, Nelson 7, Beaver 2, Warren 2.