It crescendos until the jump ball.
Then it explodes into a breakneck, seat-gripping, fury of intensity the Brainerd Warriors use to build quick leads and then tire opponents into submission.
That intensity helped Brainerd jump to a 9-0 lead and cruise to a 71-53 Central Lakes Conference victory Tuesday night over the Fergus Falls Otters at Brainerd High School.
Here’s how it builds.
“Our coaches start with it,” said senior guard Jack Sauer. “Then they fire us up and we go and then the crowd helps by cheering for us and then we just build off each other.”
The Warriors forced nine first-half turnovers and scored 11 points off of those. They turned their 9-0 lead into a 26-13 advantage with 5:30 minutes remaining in the half.
Sauer scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the first half and Marcus Comstock, who finished with 20 points, added 11 in the frame.
“We practice harder than our games, and I know people don’t believe that, but we do,” said Brainerd head coach Scott Stanfield. “We practice extremely hard. We’ve been fortunate that our kids have bought into that. When they practice that hard all the time, when they get into a game and with the crowd going, well, now the intensity goes up even more and that’s what you’re seeing.”
Fergus Falls battled back with a 10-0 run to shave Brainerd’s lead to three. Mike Millard, who led Fergus with 20 points, scored 10 in each half. His four points during the run helped make it a 26-23 game.
“We know Millard is good in the post,” said Sauer. “We know he can get the rebounds and finish really well so we had to get him out of there. He still did really well tonight.”
After a Brainerd timeout, the Warriors responded with an 11-1 run to secure a 37-24 halftime lead. Sauer started the surge with a 3-pointer and added four free throws.
“(Fergus) started hitting shots and we weren’t closing out or matching up very well,” said Stanfield. “We called a timeout and just settled down and got our shooters organized and back into the game against their zone and went on a little run of our own. That was huge for us.”
Brainerd shot 46 percent in the first half and finished shooting 45 percent for the game. Its defense held the Otters to 31-percent shooting for the game and forced 17 turnovers.
“We have a game plan that coach gives before the game and then we get fired up,” said Sauer. “We just start by looking over what we do before the game. Then we look over the other team and what they like to do and then we just play our defense that fits accordingly.”
Despite a lull in tempo in the second half, Brainerd used runs of 7-0, 6-1 and 8-0 to build a 62-46 advantage.
Brainerd’s ability to attack the basket with Comstock and Jacob Blong, who finished with 11 points, helped get Millard in foul trouble. Millard eventually fouled out with five minutes remaining to essentially end any threat.
The Warriors improve to 12-0 and are the only Class 4A team, and one of just four teams remaining in the state, that is still unbeaten.
“We knew that Fergus looked at this game probably as a do-or-die game because of the way the conference is stacking up,” said Stanfield. “This is their third loss now, and I think, if we keep playing the way we are they knew they had to come in and get a win.
“Sartell will be the same way on Thursday and we’ll have to play really, really well down there to win. They’re loaded.”
Fergus Falls 24 29 — 53
Brainerd 37 34 — 71
Reece Johnson 6, Drew Reinertson 2, Mike Millard 20, Drew Pearson 5, Jackson McAllister 5, Isaiah Lemke 3, Austin Rund 11, Joe Gaworski 2. FG 19-45 (31 percent), FT 11-21 (percent). 3-point 3-18 (17 percent).
Tony Sauer 3, Jack Sauer 24, Taylor Huber 1, Connor Bowman 3, Jacob Blong 11, Marcus Comstock 20, Ian Haug 4, Chris Bowman 5. FG 23-51 (45 percent), FT 18-24 (75 percent). 3-point 6-23 (26 percent).