If there was any question about how Brainerd would respond after suffering its first loss of the season, the Warriors answered it Saturday afternoon against the Elk River Elks.
Following a 5-hour round trip bus ride in sub-zero temperatures Friday, the Warriors bounced back less than 20 hours later with a gritty 57-36 win in a Section 8-4A game at Brainerd High School.
Friday night, Moorhead snapped the Warriors’ 14-game season-opening win streak. Brainerd let an 18-point lead slip away and allowed the Spuds’ Aaron Lien to go off for a school-record 53 points.
“We really wanted to come out and show that we still had some talent and that we still are a good team,” said Warriors post Marcus Comstock, who scored 16 of his hard-fought, game-high 20 points in the second half.
The contest was far from fluid as it was disrupted by 38 fouls (26 on Elk River) and 59 turnovers (31 by the Elks).
“We knew they were going to be a physical team,” Comstock said. “We came out and we just played physical with them.”
Turnovers and fouls had to affect shooting percentages as Brainerd shot just 40 percent and the Elks 30 percent.
“Our kids were tired, no question we were tired. You could see it in the locker room, you could see it in our shootaround,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “We just talked about great teams, good teams, they just find a way. Even when you’re tired and sore and nicked up, you’ve got to find a way to play with energy, and they did. I can’t be happier with our kids.”
Stanfield was pleased with his team’s smothering, swarming defense. Brainerd’s occasional full-court pressure perturbed the Elks. The Warriors also deflected, and recovered, several entry passes into the paint. Elk River made just 8 of 29 baskets in the second half, 14 of 47 in all.
“We watched them a couple times, they’re a very good team,” Stanfield said. “We’re happy that our kids came to play defense. They moved their feet and slid over. Our cross-down action on defense was much better than it was at Moorhead.
“It was a point of emphasis during our walkthrough and shootaround (Saturday) morning, that we needed to do that better, and the kids took that upon themselves and challenged themselves and really did a nice job.”
Trailing 29-15 at the half, the Elks three times in the second half pulled within seven points, but each time Brainerd responded.
Brainerd led 44-36 when it salted the win away with a resounding 13-point run to end the game. Jack Sauer scored seven of his 18 points in Brainerd’s game-ending burst.
“This definitely was a boost to the morale of our team,” Comstock said.
In the first half, Brainerd made only 35 percent of its field goals and the Elks 33 percent.
A laborious, deliberate pace in the game’s first eight minutes, and a 10-9 Elk River lead, was transformed into a 23-10 Brainerd edge following a 14-point Warrior surge. Six of those points came at the foul line, 11 off of turnovers.
Elk River was scoreless for more than eight minutes during the Warriors’ spree. Clay Elrod’s free throw with 1:43 left finally ended the drought.
The victory vaulted Brainerd into the lead in the section according to the Quality Results Formula (QRF). Brainerd now has a 232.1 QRF, followed by Elk River’s 220.8. Brainerd improved to 6-1 against section opponents, the Elks slipped to 3-1.
“I don’t know how it works, but we always seem to get the short end of that (QRF),” Stanfield said. “Beating them helps. Every win they pick up, I understand, will help us somehow. How? I don’t know.”
Elk River 15 21 — 36
Brainerd 29 28 — 57
Zach Ernst 2, Porter Morrell 9, Clay Elrod 10, Max Person 3, Bryan Edwards 6, Terry Hadden 3, Isaac Howard 3. FG 14-47 (30 percent). FT 5-10. 3-point: 3-17. Turnovers: 31.
Jack Sauer 18, Jacob Blong 5, Marcus Comstock 20, Ian Haug 3, Chris Bowman 2, Tony Sauer 6, Jagar Hanson 3. FG 17-42 (40 percent). FT 18-26 (69 percent). 3-point: 5-17 (29 percent). Turnovers: 28. Rebounds: 29.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.