March 3, 2011 at 9:32 a.m.
As the main event in the Coaches vs Cancer fundraiser and a rematch of a six point thriller from earlier this season, the build up to the North Branch against Chisago Lakes boys basketball game was looming large.
In the end, though, North Branch mugged Chisago Lakes early, and never let them recover as they cruised to a double-digit victory over the Wildcats.
In front of a huge crowd in the North Branch gymnasium, and on senior/parents night for the Vikings, David Leason gave the crowd a reason to cheer early.
The senior, who wasn't even starting to begin the season, sparked the Vikes early with a fast break lay up and a big three point shot to put NB up 5-0.
Although Chisago answered with a Benj Figini basket, North Branch went on a 9-0 run over the next few minutes to go up 14-2 over Chisago Lakes in the opening minutes.
The home crowd was on their feet and raucous, cheering on the surging Vikings early.
Chisago Lakes did make some headway in the middle of the first half, cutting the lead to 27-22, and it looked like the Wildcats were going to make a game of it behind Figini's offense. But, deft passing and Brandon Johnson's post moves down low left Chisago Lakes shaking their heads at times on defense.
Plus, the Vikings frustrated Figini on defense at times with a combination of the 6'5" Johnson, 6'4" Scott Bossard, and even Leason at times, who gives up four inches to Figini, but is athletic enough to make up for it.
By halftime, North Branch had stretched their lead back to 10 points at 39-29.
In the second half, Chisago Lakes was never able to put together a serious threat to North Branch's lead. The Vikings extended it early, and every time Chisago would string together a few baskets with a few defensive stops, North Branch would slow it down until they got the shot they wanted, and it usually went in to kill any CL rallies.
By the end of the game, it came down to a battle of benches as both Chisago Lakes Head Coach Herb Jangor and North Branch Head Coach David Anderson emptied their benches as the lead was too much for Chisago Lakes to overcome at that point. North Branch ended up winning 66-49.
"Our guys played their best game of the year on Friday. We really came out and jumped on Chisago early with great hustle and some easy fast break points," Anderson said. "Our guys played with as much intensity and passion as I have ever seen, it helped that we had a tremendous atmosphere in the gym with a huge student section and great fan support. Tonight's win was a complete team effort."
Anderson noted two of his seniors for their performance and effort on the court, "Brandon Johnson had a dominant performance inside and really sparked us offensively," he said. "And the guy I am really impressed with is Christian Ehrnriter. Over the past few weeks Christian has really become a tremendous leader on the floor for us and has the ability to calm us down when we need to be calmed down and run the offense exactly like we need to."
Figini scored a game-high 28 points, but no one else on Chisago Lakes scored in double figures while Johnson, Leason, Thomas Kinsella and Forrest Huset all were in double digits for NB, with Ehrnriter adding nine.