BAXTER — After starting the season 0-8-1, the Brainerd Warriors are suddenly riding a 2-game win streak.
Tuesday, the Warriors doubled their season goal output with an 8-0 victory at Fergus Falls.
Thursday, at Southdale Field, the Warriors scored the game’s first two goals, then withstood a frantic last three minutes by Willmar to defeat the Cardinals 2-1 in Central Lakes Conference play.
“The cup overfloweth, I guess is what they say,” Warriors coach Tony Smith said. “We’re very happy to be able to actually win on our home field and take advantage of the momentum that we started on Tuesday. We wanted to feel what that felt like again. It certainly looks like (the boys) are pretty happy in the (midfield) circle.”
Warrior defenders have allowed just 13 shots on keeper Joe Anderholm in the two wins and Smith has made some personnel adjustments during that span.
“Collectively, I feel like defense has always been our strong point,” Smith said. “They kept us in games that maybe we shouldn’t have been in. We’re really playing well as a team. As we go forward and attack it’s a team commitment.
“We’re trying to mix some pieces up. I did it at Fergus Falls, and I did it today. We’re adding some new pieces up in the top and in the middle. Maybe the chemistry wasn’t there at the beginning that we’re finding now. I was very pleased with the effort and I’m proud of the boys.”
Senior tri-captain Brayden Campbell said the personnel changes have paid off.
“Those are showing now because the team is starting to come together,” he said. “Everything is starting to fit into place.”
Campbell managed to fit in a penalty kick that gave Brainerd an insurance score Thursday. In the 15th minute of the second half, Marcus Comstock was knocked down from behind, giving Brainerd a penalty kick, which Campbell buried with a left-footed laser into the corner.
“I kind of shanked a PK a couple weeks ago,” he said. “I have an open sixth hour at school so every day during sixth hour I go down and I practice about 40 minutes before everyone gets there. I just do sprints and work on my PKs. That was a recommendation by my coach and it helped a lot.”
About 7.5 minutes before Campbell’s goal, a Willmar player received a red card for a blow to the head. The Warriors benefited, playing almost the last 32 minutes with a man advantage.
Isaiah Gilderman gave Brainerd the lead at 26:54 of the first off an assist from Cole Babcock. Willmar keeper Charlie Trochlil came way out of the net to stop the ball but Gilderman poked it through Trochlil and a defender and went in all alone.
“According to Isaiah he nutmegged the keeper (rolled the ball through his legs), but I’m not sure he did,” Smith said. “It’s one of those hustle plays where you just don’t know. There’s confusion from the back line and the keeper. If you’re not there to take advantage of that, you’re in the wrong spot. Fortunately for us, Isaiah was. He jumped over it and had a nice easy goal.”
Willmar’s only score was off a long free kick by Jose Contreras with 2:24 remaining. The Cardinals applied considerable pressure in the final minutes but were unable to score.
■ Soccer Saturday
Brainerd hosts Bemidji at 2 p.m. Saturday. Youths 14 and under will be admitted free, with a paying adult, if the youth wears a soccer jersey.
“We’re calling it ‘Warrior Soccer Saturday,’” Smith said. “We’re trying to create an environment of fun soccer and the youth programs have their thing in the morning. It should be a fun Saturday.”
Willmar 0 1 — 1
Brainerd 1 1 — 2
First half: Brd-Isaiah Gilderman (Cole Babcock) 26:54
Second half: Brd-Brayden Campbell PK 55:49; W-Juan Contreras 77:36
Shots on goal: W 8, Brd 6
Goalkeepers: W-Charlie Trochlil (4 saves); Brd-Joe Anderholm (7 saves)
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.