Exactly two weeks had passed since the Brainerd Warriors’ last game and that rustiness showed Thursday night against the Alexandria Cardinals.
Brainerd shot just 37 percent from the field and 50 percent at the foul line, but good teams find ways to win when they don’t play particularly well. The Warriors did just that, securing a 62-53 Central Lakes Conference victory at Brainerd High School.
The Warriors led just 54-53 with 2:06 remaining, but came through at crunch time, scoring the game’s last eight points. Brainerd is 6-0 for the first time since Dec. 27, 2006.
“All in all, it was a good win,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “These are the kinds of games in the conference — that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re no longer the team that can sneak up on people. We’re going to get everyone’s best effort. The kids have to learn that. This was a good learning experience for us.”
Guard Jack Sauer, who scored 11 points in the first half and finished with 16 to lead Brainerd, thought the Warriors weren’t focused.
“We’ve been on a break,” the senior said. “We were just kind of sloppy but we’ll get better as we go on.
“We just practiced (during the break). We weren’t used to that game-type setting so we were kind of rusty.”
Brainerd made only 16 of 32 free throws, 9 of 21 in the second half. Fortunately, the Warriors committed just 11 turnovers and scored 19 points off of 22 Alexandria turnovers.
“We’re going to shoot free throws (Friday) probably right when we come in,” Stanfield said. “It’s such a weird thing. We practice free throws every day. You observe them, you chart them, and they’re up around 75 to 80 percent.
“It was just one of those games. At any level that happens. It seems like when one kid struggles at the line it trickles down, and it certainly did today. But we played well enough down the stretch, against a pretty good team, and pulled out a win.”
The Warriors converted just 21 of 57 field goals, 9 of 30 in the second half. They missed numerous baskets in the paint.
“We missed a lot of shots right at the rim, layups at the rim,” Stanfield said. “I think part of it is we haven’t played since Dec. 20. During that time period, we practiced and the kids were working really hard in practice, but there’s nothing like playing a game. You smooth out more when you play a game.”
Brainerd, which led 34-23 at the half, was up 40-28 when things began to unravel. The Cardinals went on a 10-point burst to climb within a basket. Brainerd stayed ahead, but the Cardinals twice climbed within a single point before Brandon Bistodeau’s three tied it at 51 with 4:41 to play.
A basket by Marcus Comstock, who provided 11 of his 15 points in the second half, and a free throw from Ian Haug put Brainerd in front 54-51. Travis Krueger’s second-chance basket for Alexandria tightened it to 54-53 with 2:06 left. Brainerd then blanked the Cardinals the rest of the way.
Staunch defense enabled Brainerd to hold off the Cardinals. Alexandria shot just 36 percent from the floor and wasn’t much better at the foul line, sinking 61 percent.
The Warriors’ interior defense did a commendable job against 6-8 post Logan Doyle and 6-4 wing Ted Deitz. The latter went to the sideline after appearing to sprain an ankle three minutes into the game and returned for about a minute in the second half. Doyle, who’s bound for South Dakota State, scored 11 points.
“He’s a load,” Stanfield said of Deitz, “but I actually think when they took him out they moved better offensively. They were able to create some space against us.
“Doyle’s a good player. He’s going Division I, and there’s a reason why, but I thought Jagar Hanson played him really well.”
Alexandria 23 30 — 53
Brainerd 34 28 — 62
Brandon Bistodeau 5, Joe Gorghuber 9, Chase Kohler 3, David Krivanek 11, Logan Doyle 11, Ted Deitz 3, Kevin Setterstrom 2, Travis Krueger 9. FG 18-50 (36 percent). FT 14-23 (61 percent). 3-point 6-22. Turnovers: 22.
Jack Sauer 16, Jacob Blong 4, Marcus Comstock 15, Ian Haug 8, Chris Bowman 2, Jagar Hanson 8, Tony Sauer 7, Connor Bowman 2. FG 21-57 (37 percent). FT 16-32 50 (percent). 3-point 4-16. Turnovers: 11.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.