January 16, 2004 at 12:48 p.m.
Forest Lake 45
Last Tuesday’s game with Forest Lake was about one thing and one thing only for the North Branch boys basketball team, momentum. After the Rangers, it was back to conference play for the Vikings, facing a string of nine straight Rum River match-ups. Momentum was critical.
Looking to dot their I’s and cross their T’s, the Vikings played a near flawless game, controlling the ball on offense and forcing turnovers with their defense.
The game definitely didn’t start out that way. The Rangers opened up play with a three-pointer before Jake Anderson tied things up with a trey of his own. Matt Nelson followed with a three before Forest Lake answered back, tying the game 6-6 less than three minutes in. Both teams traded baskets in the first resulting in five ties and two lead changes. A Forest Lake basket at the buzzer put the Rangers in front 16-14 after one.
The scoring continued to light up the scoreboard in the second. After a Matt Fletcher put North Branch back in front, Forest Lake rattled off the next seven points to take a 23-17 lead. However, when you’re facing a three-point shooting team, you can never lead by enough. It took the Vikings four shots to recover, all three-pointers, putting North Branch in front by three at the half, 29-26. The flurry of threes made eight treys for the Vikings in the first half and five alone in the second quarter.
“We shot the ball pretty well and were patient running our offense,” remarked Bill Baumann, North Branch boys basketball head coach. “We played a really controlled game on both ends of the floor.”
The threes reigned supreme in the third as well for North Branch. Leading by three at the break, the Vikings opened the third with 12 straight points, all on three-pointers, opening up a 15 point advantage.
The Rangers did their best to stay close but every time they would score two, the Vikings would add three. North Branch finished with 13 three-pointers in the game.
Leading 50-38 early in the fourth, a Fletcher basket pushed the Vikings lead to 14 before the Rangers rattled off five straight to pull within nine. However, that was as close as it would get as North Branch took care of the ball and sealed the game from the free throw line, en route to a 56-45 win.
“We did a great job closing out the game by being patient and not forcing anything,” said Baumann. “We basically ran off the last two minutes and made free throws when we had to. We only had three turnovers for the game and we forced 13 with our defense.”
Fletcher led the Vikings with 20 points while Matt Nelson and Jake Anderson each added 12. The win pushed North Branch to 7-3 overall with Milaca up next.
“That was a big non-conference win,” stated Baumann. “Now we have to take care of business in the Rum River.”
North Branch 56
Forest Lake 45
1 2 3 4 F
North Branch 14 15 21 6 56
Princeton 16 10 12 7 45
Fletcher 20, Anderson 12, Nelson 12, Baumann 6, Beaver 4, McClaskie 2.
North Branch 71
A win is a win, even though it wasn’t easy.
Last Friday, the Vikings jumped back into their conference schedule with a road game versus Milaca. The Wolves bit, growled and clawed their way to the very end, almost upending North Branch 71-67. A win is a win.
The fireworks were lit from the opening tip. Four of the Vikings first five baskets were three-pointers, however, Milaca answered North Branch with an inside-outside mix, howling back to grab a 19-18 lead after one.
“Milaca really came out to play and it is something we have to be ready for every night,” explained Baumann. “They refused to give up and play extremely hard.”
North Branch re-took the lead in the second quarter, doing their damage from the three-point line and the free throw stripe. The Vikings battled back with four more treys, scoring 24 points in the second. Whenever they didn’t score from the three-point arc, North Branch did from the free throw line, hitting eight of 11 in the quarter, mounting a 42-35 lead at the half.
In the third, Milaca changed their defensive game-plan, a move that gave them just enough time to make their move. Down by nine at one point, the Wolves went on a 10-2 run, taking a one point lead midway through the third. Meanwhile, the Vikings struggled to adjust, scoring only nine points in the quarter, hitting only three field goals.
“Milaca was giving us the outside shot in the first half, but in the second half, they decided to take away our threes so we went inside a lot more and were very successful,” replied Baumann. “If we didn’t score, we got to the free throw line and converted.”
The success that Baumann is referring to came in the fourth. Tied 51-51, the Vikings got four points by Anderson to start the attack, then McClaskie, Fletcher, Baumann, and Beaver followed suit, building a seven point lead four minutes into the quarter.
The North Branch lead got as high as eight before Milaca charged back with one final push. “We would play well in spurts but at other times, we lost our focus,” mentioned Baumann.
The Wolves chipped away at the deficit, trimming the North Branch lead all the way down to two with 30 seconds to play. Forced to foul, Milaca put Fletcher on the line with four seconds left. The senior canned both shots, putting the Vikings back in front by four, 71-67, pounding the final nail in the Milaca coffin.
For the game, North Branch went 26-35 from the free throw line including 11-16 in the fourth quarter. Fletcher hit 10-11, leading the Vikings with 18 points. After him, four other players reached double figures in scoring for North Branch. Baumann scored 13, Anderson and McClaskie had 11, and Nelson added 10.
“It was great to have five players in double figures and Tony Beaver chipping in with six,” remarked Baumann. “Ben Stenberg is doing the little things inside and on the defensive end that is making us successful.”
The win stretched the Vikings conference record to 4-0 and their overall mark to 8-3. Next up, two critical games with Pine City and St. Michael-Albertville this week.
North Branch 71
1 2 3 4 F
North Branch 18 24 9 20 71
Milaca 19 16 16 16 67
Fletcher 18, Baumann 13, Anderson 11, McClaskie 11, Nelson 10, Beaver 6, Stenberg 2.