March 26, 2004 at 9:53 a.m.
Spring Lake Park 62
North Branch 53
Midway through the second quarter, Bill Baumann shrugged his shoulders, looked to the sky, and smiled. What more could he and the Vikings do? Literally, everything Spring Lake Park threw up went in last Tuesday night in the section 6AAA semifinals. Turn around jump shots from 18 feet out, three-pointers off the glass, shots from 22 feet out that hit nothing but net…almost everything went in. For once, North Branch was feeling the same type of frustration that their opponents have been feeling all season, it was just the worst possible time for a lesson in payback.
“It was the first game and the last game,” mentioned Baumann, North Branch head boys basketball coach. “It happened against Cambridge, they didn’t miss, and it happened against Spring Lake Park. Every time we make a run, they would answer with a three. Every time we made a run, they hit a shot. Usually teams don’t answer like that when we come at them but they did. It was just another lesson in life.”
A lesson on how to shoot the basketball. After scoring the first eight points of the game, the number one ranked Vikings seemed to be in the drivers seat. Then the Panthers, seeded fourth in the section tournament, called a time-out to regroup and everything changed.
“We were tight against Mahtomedi but I thought the kids were relaxed and really focused to start the game,” remarked Baumann. “I thought we were in good shape, we were going to take this thing, but then they called a time-out. Guzy (Grant Guzy, Spring Lake Park head boys basketball coach) really let his kids have it, he was really laying in to them. Evidently it woke them up.”
That might be the understatement of the year.
Spring Lake Park caught fire out of the time-out, hitting four straight three-pointers, all while the Vikings were struggling to find their range from beyond the arc. Before anyone knew it, the Panthers had scored 14 straight points to take the lead 14-8. The Vikings erased the Panther deficit by crawling back from the free throw line, scoring the next six points before Spring Lake Park closed out the first quarter with a three-pointer at the buzzer, one of five threes for the Panthers in the first eight minutes of the game.
“It was more them in the zone but it was also us messing up on defense,” replied Baumann. “We made some adjustments and tried to step up our defense but that meant that we had to call of our help inside.”
It’s not that the Vikings adjustments weren’t good enough, it just simply didn’t matter. After shooting 67 percent from the floor in the first quarter, the Panthers continued to strike at will, shooting 67 percent from the floor in the second as well. Meanwhile, despite hitting three three-pointers in the second, they were the only points the Vikings could muster, shooting just 25 percent. The cold streak put North Branch in a massive hole, leaving them down by eight at the half, 31-23.
Down at halftime? It’s a scenario the Vikings hadn’t faced much this season. Unfortunately for them, there was no room for error.
“Even though the kids hadn’t been behind a whole lot this season, there wasn’t panic, we have a veteran group,” said Baumann. “They were frustrated and they were determined to come back.”
Both elements, frustration and determination, would play a significant role in a back and forth second half.
First the frustration.
Most fans in stands, especially the ones dressed in red and black, were hoping the halftime break would cool the Panthers off. Baumann had the same idea, and after the Vikings trimmed the Spring Lake Park lead to five less than two minutes into the third, that appeared to be the case. But, it was far from it.
Leading by five, the Panthers roared back, scoring the next seven points. After Matt Fletcher stopped the run with a basket, Spring Lake Park tacked on nine more. Fletcher and Britt Baumann did their best to keep the Vikings close, both hitting late three-pointers. Still, despite the effort, Spring Lake Park’s lead was 10 after three, 49-39.
The Panthers opened up the fourth the same way they left off in the third, pushing their lead to 13 with 5:57 left in the game. However, North Branch knew they still had a shot. Baumann continued to remind his players, “13 points, that’s only four threes.” With the three-pointer, leads can be built and lost in a hurry, and the Vikings were about to prove that.
While picking up the pressure on defense, Britt Baumann officially mounted the charge with four minutes left by sinking his fourth three-pointer of the game. Baumann was on all night, hitting four of six from beyond the arc. Twenty-two seconds later, Fletcher canned a three, his third of the game, trimming the Viking deficit to seven. After the Panthers converted on a lay-up to run their lead back to nine, Jake Anderson joined the parade, sinking a three of his own. Moments later, after two free throws by Fletcher, the Vikings comeback had got them within four with 2:20 left to play. The North Branch faithful was starting to believe. Twenty-six long seconds later, on the heels of a Panther free throw, North Branch walked the ball up the court, down by five with a minute and a half to play. Plenty of time. Five points, that’s only two threes…
The Vikings worked the ball around, looking for a good shot. As the seconds ticked down, the crowd grew louder and louder, more anxious with every pass. Finally, with the clock approaching one minute, North Branch picked their shot, and like it did so many times in the first three quarters, the ball failed to go in. After shooting only 37 percent for the game from the floor (15 for 40), an extra percentage point could’ve made all the difference, after all, being down by two, anything can happen. Instead, it sealed a 62-53 heartbreaking loss as Spring Lake Park sealed the win by scoring the last five points of the game. Game over.
“We made that run at them. We wanted to get a good shot because we needed to score,” remembered Baumann. “They (Spring Lake Park) played good defense. The crowd was panicking but the kids were smart and they knew the last minute of a game takes a long time. We got the shot, we just couldn’t put it in.”
In the end, the numbers said it all. For Spring Lake Park, nine three-pointers on 17 attempts (53 percent), including six threes in the first half. As for North Branch, along with shooting 37 percent from the field, the Vikings shot 10 of 28 from beyond the arc (35 percent), including going 5 for 17 in the second half (29 percent) when North Branch was a trey away from taking charge.
Individually, despite scoring a team high 24 points, Fletcher shot 6 for 17 in the game, going 3 for 13 from three-point land. Only one Viking finished the game shooting better than 50 percent and that was Baumann who hit four out of seven shots.
“After the game, their locker room was euphoric. We could hear them celebrating like they won the state tournament. They came up and told our guys after the game that was the best they’ve ever played,” remarked Baumann. “It’s tough. I told our guys that s**t happens. It’s a lesson in life. They played their A plus game and we played our B plus game. Their game was just better than ours that night. What do you do? Hopefully, when the disappointment wears off, these kids will be able to look back and reflect on what they did this season. It was a great ride, that’s really the only way to sum it up. These kids are just so special, that’s really what has made it so fun. We accomplished a lot and the kids should be proud of that. I think they will be.”
It might take some time, but eventually it will happen. Along with going undefeated in conference and finishing 24-4 overall, the 2003-04 Vikings became the first team in school history to ever be ranked number one in state. Although the ride has come to a stop, it’s those types of accomplishments that will put this team in the record books for years to come. One amazing night of shooting from an underdog four seed will never change that.
Spring Lake Park 62
North Branch 53
1 2 3 4 F
Spring Lake Park 17 14 18 13 62
North Branch 14 9 16 14 53
Fletcher 24, Baumann 12, Anderson 9, Stenberg 4, Nelson 4.