March 11, 2010 at 10:41 a.m.

Vikes get sweet revenge, best 'Cats on third try


North Branch 53, Chisago Lakes 45

Some say one of the hardest tasks in sports is to beat the same team three times in one year.

By the third meeting, the teams know each other so well that anything can happen, regardless of the outcome of the first two match ups.

Last year, the North Branch girls basketball team completed that unenviable task of downing the same team three teams when they knocked the Chisago Lakes girls basketball team out of the section playoffs after besting them twice in the regular season.

This year, the Wildcats were looking to repay that favor. The 20-6 'Cats were heavily favored going into their game against the 13-13 Vikings. Chisago Lakes beat North Branch 44-34 in their first meeting this year on Jan. 12, and more recently, the 'Cats laid a 22-point beatdown on the Vikes on Feb. 19.

All of the two rivals' history from this year is preamble to what would happen last Wednesday night.

"We picked a poor time to have bad game as a team and they took advantage," Chisago Lakes Head Coach Craig Walker said bluntly after his team was upset 53-45. "Whichever team executed their game plan the best was going to win and we failed to execute offensively."

North Branch Head Coach Dan Schindler said his team's goal was to adjust their defense from the first two games to frustrate the potent Wildcat offense. "We knew it would only work if all the players did their job and carried out their roles."

Throughout the first half, they did just that. The Vikes built a small lead early off of their new-look defense and went shot-for-shot with the Wildcats on offense, something they had failed to do in previous outings.

At the halftime break, it was 24-20 in favor of the Vikings, and they were on pace for the upset.

In the second half, things started to get even more interesting with large swoons in the scoring. Early in the second stanza, North Branch extended their lead to 15 points, and it looked like they might cruise easily to the upset, but behind offensive stalwarts Whitney Tinjum and Kelsey Ristow, CL started storming back in an attempt to save their season.

With only a few minutes left in the contest, Chisago Lakes was able to trim the lead to three points. But, one thing North Branch has been consistent at all year is free throws, and they didn't fold under the big game pressure. They made eight of their last nine free throws and 14-of-19 overall.

The big key, though, for the Viking upset was the play of freshman post Sarah Lekson. The Vikes have lacked size all year, but Lekson put together her best game of the year, scoring 18 points, and her presence opened up the perimeter for the NB shooters.

Schindler also noted that he got some great minutes from bench players Josie Forstrom and Laura Aho. He also said that despite their size differential, the senior trio of Rebecca Collins, Miranda Charley and Rikki Beaver really controlled the boards, pulling down 22 rebounds between them.

"We had been waiting for our team to put a complete game together and we did it against Chisago Lakes," Schindler said. "I was really proud of our team's effort. Our team was really focused and we felt we were playing good basketball in almost upsetting St. Francis the week before."

Walker also pointed to that near-upset of St. Francis as a big confidence booster for the county rivals. "We knew going in that they had just played a great game against St. Francis," he said. "As a team that made it to the section finals last season, and we knew they would be ready to compete."

For the game, Lekson and Tinjum were the top scorers, each nettting 18 points. Ristow added nine for Cats, and Kendra Norman scored 15 big points for the winning Vikings. Jessica Audette also added nine points and Charley had two points and 10 rebounds.

The upset only fuels the friendly rivalry further, as Chisago Lakes was expected to make a deep run this year in the section tournament as the number two seed. They had beaten every section opponent that they had played in the regular season except for top seed DeLaSalle, but that game was very early in the season.

Walker also noted that it was a heartbreak ending for his two seniors. "It's tough for our two seniors, Kelsey Ristow and Summer Young. They both had outstanding years and made great strides as players and people. But, we will learn from this loss, make some adjustments and be ready to complete next season."

Walker also took a moment to thank one of his top assistants. "I would like to congratulate Assistant Coach Jeff Lindeman on being named Section 3AAA Assistant Coach of the Year. Jeff is very deserving of this award. In his 28 years of coaching, in both the boys and girls basketball programs, as well as our community programs, he has made a difference on the court and more importantly off the court in the lives of many, many Chisago Lakes student athletes."

After the upset, North Branch moved on to face North Suburban Conference rival Totino-Grace in the section semi-finals. The game was a rematch of last year's section final game that Totino-Grace won.

For full results and a recap of that game, check out Page 20 in this week's Chisago County Press.


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