March 18, 2004 at 3:42 p.m.
North Branch 58
As expected, the first five minutes were the hardest. After that, everything fell into place. That’s usually the way first round playoff games go for teams, especially number one seeds. They feel the pressure, they feel the odds, they know what is expected, both by the fans and themselves. The pressure is on them and no one else. Hence, a slow start…..for the first five minutes.
Last Thursday against Mahtomedi, the number eight seed, the North Branch Vikings could feel the pressure. With every missed shot, it grew stronger and stronger. The Zephyrs drew first blood, scoring the first points of the game more than a minute and a half into the game. As for the Vikings, although they tried, they couldn’t answer, shooting only 25 percent from the floor in the first. The clock read 3:03 before their first basket. Still, despite not scoring for the first five minutes of the game, when they finally did connect, Britt Baumann’s three-pointer put the Vikings ahead 3-2. Slow start? No problem.
“We started out extremely tight, but our defense was keeping us in the game,” said Bill Baumann, North Branch head boys basketball coach. “Even though we didn’t score for that length of time, when we did score, our first points gave us the lead. The game was more physical than we normally are used to and Mahtomedi was giving us some problems with their strength but our kids refused to back down.”
Leading 3-2, the Vikings added another three late in the quarter along with a two-point basket, all five points coming from Matt Fletcher, putting them in front 8-7 after one. Mahtomedi would never be that close again.
The Vikings opened up the second quarter with two more three-pointers followed by a balanced inside attack. Balance was the key. In the second alone, Baumann, Fletcher, Matt Nelson, and Ben Stenberg combined to score 15 points as North Branch built a 23-18 lead at the break.
With Mahtomedi still within five, the Vikings pressed on the accelerator out of the locker room, pulling away for good with a deadly attack, mainly from the outside. North Branch exploded in the third, outscoring the Zephyr’s 18-5. Twelve of those points came from beyond the arc including a stretch where Baumann, Fletcher, and Bowie McClaskie nailed back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to push the Vikings lead to 18 after three, 41-23.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and came out in the third and took control in the first minute and a half and built on our lead from there,” mentioned Baumann. “We became stronger as the game went along.”
Don’t believe him? Consider this; after shooting only 25 percent from the field in the first quarter, the Vikings shot 77 percent from the floor in the third.
In the fourth, a ho-hum 17 more points to seal the win including eight from the free throw line. Midway through the fourth, a Britt Baumann three-pointer pushed the North Branch lead to 27, 54-27. That was as big as the lead got, settling in on a 21 point win at the buzzer, 58-37. The win advanced the Vikings to the section semifinals and a match-up with fourth seeded Spring Lake Park.
North Branch finished with eight players reaching the scorebook, led by Fletcher who had 21. In addition, Baumann added 17. The only player for the Vikings to play and not score was Al Moore.
“All our kids contributed in the victory,” commented Baumann. “Matt (Fletcher) and Britt (Baumann) led us in scoring but other kids did more than just score. Ben Stenberg, Matt, and Bowie McClaskie were able to contain their inside game while Jake Anderson, Matt Nelson, Britt and Greg Moriarty kept the pressure on the perimeter.
For the game, the Vikings shot 44 percent from the field while holding Mahtomedi to 29 percent. North Branch also won the three-point shooting contest, hitting 12 treys to the Zephyr’s five.
“We are in the position we want to be,” replied Baumann. “Now we just have to take care of business. Things aren’t going to get any easier, in fact, they’re only going to get harder.”
North Branch 58
1 2 3 4 F
Mahtomedi 7 11 5 14 37
North Branch 8 15 18 17 58
Fletcher 21, Baumann 17, McClaskie 5, Nelson 5, Stenberg 4, Anderson 3, Moriarty 2, Beaver 1.