It was simply a matter of maintaining.
The Brainerd Warriors jumped out to a 7-2 lead against the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles and then hung on for dear life Thursday at Brainerd High School.
Despite sending Apollo to the free throw line 26 times, Brainerd managed a 67-60 Central Lakes Conference victory behind Kayla Kraemer’s 21 points and 23 forced turnovers.
“In the beginning of the game, those turnovers just get your momentum going and makes you want to keep playing,” said Kraemer. “Unfortunately, we missed like five layups so that was a little rough, but creating those turnovers just keeps the momentum going for the whole game.”
Kraemer scored 16 of her 21 in the second half, including 7-of-8 from the line down the stretch. Gretchen Kletscher added 17 points for the 4-13 Warriors, who shot 45 percent from the field.
Brainerd’s defense forced 23 Apollo turnovers and turned those into 22 points.
“We struggled on defense with our fouls so just continuing to put pressure on them, but try not to put our hands on them as much was what we were trying to do,” said Kraemer. “Then just execute on offense.”
Brainerd built a 21-15 lead and held on for a 29-24 halftime edge. Kletscher’s nine points led the way.
The Warriors grabbed their largest lead at 39-29 as Kletscher and Kraemer scored all 10 of Brainerd’s points to start the second half.
The one problem Brainerd had in the first half, exploded in the second half. That problem was Apollo’s Abby Notch. The junior guard notched a game-high 36 points. She scored 23 of Apollo’s 36 second-half points to cut Brainerd’s lead to 47-46 with five minutes remaining.
The Warriors maintained, however, using a patient offense and quality bench minutes.
“The Sauk Rapids game, and this game, we were up and then we let them back into the game and it’s one of those critical times where, ‘Are we going to do what we need to do to win the game,’” Brainerd head coach Brian McAllister asked his team. “‘Or are we going to go the other way?’
“Both games we did what we needed to do. We slowed down. We looked for better shots. We took care of the ball and we picked it up on defense.”
Brainerd’s bench contributed 15 points compared to Apollo’s four. Tedi Ramberg scored seven of those. Starters Maria West and Taylor Johnshoy each scored six.
“We had nice bench play,” said McAllister. “Everybody played and contributed offensively and defensively. That was an 11-person team effort. That was a nice one to get.”
Kraemer hit the first of her seven free throws with a minute remaining to hand Brainerd a 61-55 edge. She hit her next six for Brainerd’s final point total.
“We have Buffalo on Saturday so this win gives us a little bit more confidence,” Kraemer said. “They’re a very good team so hopefully we can give them a pretty good game.”
St. Cloud Apollo 24 36 — 60
Brainerd 29 36 — 67
ST. CLOUD APOLLO
Katrina Johnson 7, Abby Notch 36, Morgan Tesch 4, Mel Gebhardt 5, Casey Evans 5, Liz Lowery 3. FG 19-46 (41 percent), FT 18-26 (69 percent), 3-point basket: 4-14 (29 percent).
Jenna Degen 2, Erica Trafas 4, Maria West 6, Taylor Johnshoy 6, Kayla Kraemer 21, Gretchen Kletscher 17, Heather Jaeche 2, McKenzie Veith 2, Theodora Ramberg 7. FG 25-56 (45 percent), FT 13-23 (57 percent), 3-point basket: 2-7 (29 percent).
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.