If the Brainerd Warriors had played in the first half like they did in the second, they might be talking about a victory.
Brainerd fell behind 17-3 and 20-6 in the first half before scrapping back, but it was too large of a deficit to overcome as the Willmar Cardinals posted a 46-38 Central Lakes Conference win Friday night at Brainerd High School.
“We have to play more than a half of basketball if we’re going to win a game,” Warriors coach Brian McAllister said. “We rushed our shots. We didn’t run our sets. We didn’t run our offense very well.
“I was surprised at halftime that it was as close as it was. In the first half, we played about the last four minutes and got back into the game, but we’re not going to win a game playing half a game. That’s the reality of it.”
Trailing 21-12 at the half, Brainerd outscored the Cardinals 26-25 in the second as it began taking care of the basketball, committing only six turnovers. It also doubled its shooting percentage from the first half (15 percent to 31 percent).
But Willmar prevailed as it made 14 free throws. Its last nine points were at the foul line. The Cardinals enabled Brainerd to get back in the game by making only 6 of 19 baskets in the second half and committing 11 turnovers during that span.
The Warriors scrapped within 42-37 with 2:52 remaining as an Ariana Huber free throw capped a 4-point run that included three free throws by Maria West, who finished with 11 points. But Brainerd scored only one more point the rest of the way.
Sophomore post Heather Fletcher led the Warriors with 16 points, scoring 13 in the second half. Other than two free throws, all of her points came in the paint as she aggressively fought Willmar on the boards.
“We came out in a 1-3-1 trap just to try and change it up a little bit, and it worked,” McAllister said of the second half. “It got us a little bit of energy.
“But the bad thing when you’re trying to pick them up like that is when we’re playing basically seven girls it’s tough to go that whole game when you have a couple girls injured and can’t play. That leaves us two more bodies short of kids that we can rotate in.”
The Warriors, who have lost four straight, played without sophomore Jenna Degen, who’s recovering from a concussion, and senior captain Heather Jaeche, who’s been diagnosed with a heart ailment.
“Both of them would have helped us a lot,” McAllister said.
Brainerd’s shooting was woeful for most of the first half, making just 4 of 27 and falling behind by nine at the intermission.
After West made the game’s first basket for the Warriors’ only lead, Brainerd went the next 15-plus minutes without a basket. Katelyn Johnson’s free throw at 13:00 was the only point after West’s basket until Heather Fletcher’s old-fashioned 3-point play with 2:29 left in the half.
The Warriors turned the ball over 11 times in the first, but Willmar converted them into only four points.
Despite its first-half turnovers, Brainerd scored six of the last seven points, receiving four from West in the run and a basket by Taylor Johnshoy.
Willmar 21 25 — 46
Brainerd 12 26 — 38
Jordan Martins 8, McKenzie Hastad 8, Anne Dunham 13, Kalley Fosso 6, Courtney Magnuson 5, Caroline Bell 3, Jennie Magnuson 3. FG 13-47 (28 percent). FT 20-36 (55 percent). Turnovers: 16.
Katelyn Johnson 2, Maria West 11, Taylor Johnshoy 8, Heather Fletcher 16, Ariana Huber 1. FG 13-56 (23 percent). FT 11-21 (52 percent). Turnovers: 17.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.