February 27, 2004 at 11:05 a.m.
It’s getting harder and harder to describe the North Branch boys basketball team. What adjectives are left?
In any case, last Tuesday the Vikings continued their hairy (amazing), incogitable (unbelievable) season by taking down Milaca with another meticulous (accurate) shooting performance. How’s that?
After falling behind 4-0 37 seconds into the game, the Vikings answered with a 20-7 run, blowing the doors off their hinges. Senior Matt Fletcher struck for 11 points by himself in the first, a sure sign of things to come.
Three minutes into the second, the Wolves heart monitor flat-lined as North Branch built a 19 point lead. Fletcher again played a factor, scoring eight more in the second, giving him 19 at half. Jake Anderson, Tony Beaver, Matt Nelson and Bowie McClaskie also scored in the second for the Vikings, giving them a 38-22 lead after two.
“We are playing good defense and that was keying our offense,” said Bill Baumann, North Branch boys basketball head coach. We are shooting better, so we have to be a little more patient on the offensive end and the game will come to us. Jake (Anderson) and Britt (Baumann) are starting to get their shot back and take some of the scoring pressure off of Matt (Fletcher). Matt was able to get to the free throw line by taking the ball to the basket.”
Something he continued to do in the second half, scoring six more points in the third. Along with Fletcher, Britt Baumann struck for back-to-back three-pointers, pushing the North Branch lead to 22 with less than four minutes left in the third. The North Branch lead got as high as 24 before Milaca dropped it back to 19 heading into the fourth, 55-36. Still, the game was already over.
Eleven of the Vikings 15 points in the fourth quarter came from the free throw line as North Branch completed a 70-42 win. Fletcher hit four free throws, giving him a game high 29 points. Baumann also hit for four, giving him 13. Anderson also reached double figures, finishing the game with 13 points. As scary as it sounds, the Viking machine might be picking up steam with the playoffs right around the corner.
“We are going to be finishing off the season by playing three of the better teams in the Rum River and that will be great prep work for sections,” said Baumann.
The win moved the Vikings record to 19-3, increasing their win streak 13 games. Now rated number two in state class AAA, North Branch hasn’t lost a game since January 3.
Last Friday, that streak continued to grow.
North Branch 70
1 2 3 4 F
Milaca 11 11 14 6 42
North Branch 20 18 17 15 70
Fletcher 29, Anderson 13, Baumann 11, McClaskie 6, Nelson 4, Beaver 3, Perrin 3, Warren 1.
North Branch 66
St. Michael-Alb. 52
Last Friday, the Vikings winning ways not only continued, but in one of the most non-competitive conference races ever, North Branch wrapped up the conference title with a 66-52 win. The victory pushed their Rum River mark to 15-0, everyone else has at least four losses. The race wasn’t even close.
Neither was the game, especially after halftime. Struggling from the field to start the game, the Knights jumped on the Vikings, scoring the first four points before Ben Stenberg got North Branch on the board. After St. Michael went up 6-2, the Vikings found their range, closing out the quarter on a 15-4 run, helped out by three three-pointers, two from Nelson and one by Baumann.
“People have asked us what happens when all of your players have off nights? We found out against St. Michael,” said Bill Baumann. “We shot 40 percent from the field in the first half but we were still able to hold a nine point lead because of our defense.”
Three more three-pointers in the second quarter gave the Vikings that nine point lead heading into the locker room, 30-21. Besides shooting 30.8 percent from the field in the first, to illustrate just how off they were, Fletcher accounted for four of the team’s 30 first half points. To pick up the slack, Baumann finished the first half with eight while Nelson put in six, Beaver added four, Anderson and McClaskie hit for three, and Stenberg finished with two. It was a total team effort.
“It was a real pick me up that we had good scoring balance when we were struggling,” remarked Baumann. “That’s what it takes to win a championship, everyone doing their part.”
That trend continued in the third as five different players scored for the Vikings, increasing their lead to 15 after three, 49-34. Fletcher and Anderson each scored six in the third, accounting for all four North Branch three-pointers in the quarter. The Vikings were starting to heat up, and fast.
After shooting 30 percent in the first half, the Vikings put a final exclamation point on the second half by hitting 54 percent of their shots in the fourth, building their lead to 22 before the Knights mounted a late comeback, trimming the score to 66-52 when it was all said and done.
“We are starting to know the value of every possession offensively and defensively,” mentioned Baumann. “We want to get a good shot every time down and force our opponent into the shot we want them to take. When it gets to tournament time, every possession becomes critical.”
With the conference title already in the bag, the Vikings have set their sights on the section tournament which begins in two weeks. North Branch has three more games to perfect their skills before the regular season comes to a close. After traveling to Zimmerman, the Vikings finish the season with back-to-back home games against Big Lake and Foley.
North Branch 66
1 2 3 4 F
STMA 10 11 13 18 52
North Branch 17 13 19 17 66
Fletcher 16, Nelson 13, Baumann 13, Anderson 9, Beaver 8, McClaskie 3, Moriarty 2, Stenberg 2.