January 13, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
Whenever North Branch and Chisago Lakes get together in basketball, all the records, stats and past performances can go right out the window.
Neither team likes to lose the annual county battle, and regardless of the kids on the court, the games usually end up close, and 2011 is no different. Based strictly on record, the Wildcats looked to have the slight edge in the game, with a 4-4 mark coming into the game, while the Vikings were reeling, having lost seven of their first eight games.
Not only that, but their loss to Duluth Central last weekend was a buzzer-beating heart breaker, so they were in quite a funk.
That didn't stop the Vikings from coming out and taking an early lead against Chisago Lakes, behind some smooth shooting from senior forward Forrest Huset. Chisago Lakes, though, wasn't going to let North Branch bully them around on their home court. An inside game featuring six-foot, eight-inch Benj Figini and six-foot, six-inch Joe Fernstrom was the 'Cats primary way to score. Plus, some long distance shooting from Per Gulbranson and Jordan Hickcox left Chisago Lakes with an early lead.
But, North Branch battled right back as Christian Ehrnriter and David Leason began to work on the Chisago Lakes defense. Both were effective attacking the rim and getting to the foul line to help start building a lead. A Thomas Kinsella three-pointer stretched North Branch's lead to six points with a few minutes remaining in the first half.
However, a late surge by the Wildcats swung that momentum all the way around in their favor, and after a string of made baskets and golden opportunities, the Wildcats went into the locker room at halftime up by two.
North Branch quickly changed that to begin the second half, hitting two three pointers in a row to open the stanza. Without Huset knocking down shots like he was early, the Vikings turned to their own inside game with Brandon Johnson, the senior made some key baskets for North Branch and they attempted to fend off a Wildcat comeback.
The rest of the second half was mostly a seesaw battle between the bitter rivals. North Branch held their five to eight point lead, but Chisago Lakes routinely chopped it down to two, three or four points, but then North Branch would stretch it back out. Every time Chisago Lakes did something effective, North Branch had an answer for it.
With time starting to trickle away and North Branch up by five, CL senior Joe Ramberg hit a three pointer from the right corner to cut the lead to two points with just under one minute remaining. Instead of funneling the ball to one of North Branch's struggling free throw shooters, Chisago Lakes frantically fouled Ehrnriter, the best free throw shooter on the Vikings' roster. The senior point guard calmly made both charity tosses to stretch the lead to four.
On the ensuing trip down the court, Wildcat junior Gio Dellwo, who had provided a nice spark for the Wildcats on the night, drove to the basket, but with nobody open to pass it to, Dellwo was stuck in midair and was forced to throw up an awkward shot. He ultimately missed, and the Vikings made good on their free throw attempts down the stretch, as they claimed the opening game in the county rivalry by a tally of 63-57.
Figini led all scoreres with 26 points. Ramberg added nine points while Hickcox scored eight.
For the Vikings, Huset led the way with 23 points, Johnson had 13 and Kinsella chipped in 10.
The North Branch game was just a continuation of a bad week for the Wildcats. They also dropped a North Suburban Conference match up to Totino Grace early last week, and they sloppily lost a non-conference match up against Grand Rapids late last week.
Totino-Grace 67, Chisago Lakes 52
The Wildcats played a couple bad stretches against the Eagles, and in the North Suburban Conference, that will haunt a team for a whole game. After staying right with TG throughout most of the first half, the Eagles stretch their lead to double digits just before halftime, and Chisago Lakes had plenty of adjustments to make at halftime.
When they came out for the second half, Chisago Lakes had a purpose. They were playing hard and doing the right things. They played a good stretch and cut the lead from 16 down to eight. Just when it looked like they might trim the lead even more, a bad shot here and a poor decision there led to Totino-Grace extending their lead back into double digits.
Although there was times when it looked as though Chisago Lakes was poised to make a mini run and come back in the game, Totino-Grace would lock it up with effective offensive possessions. The 'Cats dropped the NSC match up 67-52.
On the night, Figini had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but Chisago Lakes lacked that second offensive force that is needed. Fernstrom added eight points and Ramberg and Gulbranson each chipped in with seven, but a tough shooting night for Hickcox - he went one-of-five from the field and one-of-five from three point land -- left the 'Cats one dimensional on offense.
"We've just been struggling to get in the flow offensively," Chisago Lakes Head Coach Herb Jangor said. 'We're struggling with an identity. Some kids are just trying things that they aren't capable of. They're taking bad shots when we need good shots."
Grand Rapids 61, Chisago Lakes 39
With the tough night against Totino-Grace behind them, Chisago Lakes was hoping to come out strong against section opponent Grand Rapids. But, they couldn't have come out more cold than they were.
Not much went right for the Wildcats throughout most of the game. Despite a good effort according to Jangor, the 'Cats simply didn't do the things they needed to do to win. Some of the stats from the game are mind-boggling. No player for Chisago Lakes made more than one two-point field goal. They were five-of-25 as a team as Figini was one-of-six, Hickcox was one-of-five, Fernstrom was one-of-five, Dellwo was one-of-two and Josh Chenevert was one-for-one.
They were a little better from beyond the arc, but not much, as they went five-of-18, with Hickcox and Ramberg each making two and Peter Tengwell hitting the other. The 'Cats also committed 25 turnovers in the game, but had only five assists to go along with it. "I'm fine with 15-20 turnovers a game, as long as we have 15-20 assists," Jangor explained. "It at least means we're being aggressive. But, we aren't going to beat anybody with 25 turnovers and five assists."
The only place the Wildcats could seem to hit buckets effectively was from the free throw line, where they went 14-of-21, including a 10-for-14 effort from Figini.
For the night, Figini had a season-low 12 points and eight rebounds. Hickcox added eight points as the 'Cats were just plain ineffective on the offensive end for most of the night.
"We understand what we have to do, now we just have to do it," Jangor said. "They are showing good effort and working so hard, but we've lost self control at times. We're just not going to have success against good teams with those stretchs.
With the three straight losses, the Wildcats dropped to 4-5 on the year after starting out 3-1. It has been a frustrating stretch for the Wildcats, and things don't get much easier. They have Fridley this Friday night at home, and then have a quick turnaround, as they play at Hibbing at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Despite the tough stretch, Jangor doesn't seem worried, nor does he think his players are worried. "Realistically, they will be home in bed by 10 or 11 and then we ride a nice coach bus up to Hibbing. It shouldn't be a problem," he said. "If anybody on the team is worried about the travel schedule, we're in trouble already."
Even with the rough travel schedule and two ranked teams looming on their schedule, Jangor isn't doubting his team. "We just have to keep doing what we do," he said. "We, as a team and as coaches, have to give nothing less than 100 percent and come together as a team. There's only so much the coaches can control before it's out of our hands. It's up to the kids. They have to believe in each other and themselves. The star of our team is the team."