Winning the Central Lakes Conference championship isn’t all the Brainerd Warriors plan to accomplish this season.
But, since it’s only the third time Brainerd has ever achieved such a feat, the Warriors will savor it for a few days, at least until Tuesday when they travel to Sauk Rapids.
The Warriors’ only other titles in their previous 35 years in the CLC were in 1992-93 when they won it outright and 1991-92 when they tied Rocori for a share.
Brainerd wrapped up the title all alone Thursday night after systematically taking apart the Willmar Cardinals 69-35 at Brainerd High School. St. Cloud Apollo beat Fergus Falls 68-47 Thursday, giving every other CLC team five losses with four games to play.
“It’s just the kids,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “They bought into what we wanted to do a couple years ago. They saw the vision. It’s all on them. They’re the ones who did it. They’re the ones that put the work in during the summer and put the work in in the fall. They’re the ones on the court during the game. The credit’s all theirs.
“What a great bunch of kids to be called conference champions. They really are.”
Senior post Marcus Comstock reaffirmed that Brainerd doesn’t want to settle for being conference champions.
“That’s an exciting step,” he said, “but that’s just the first step of all we want to accomplish, but it’s definitely a good feeling to have.”
The Warriors won their 20th game of the season, their sixth in a row, with a stifling defense that caused Willmar to shoot 27 percent from the field (14 of 51) and turn the ball over 18 times, 13 in the first half.
“We worked on (defense) a lot,” Comstock said. “We tried to figure out what they were going to do, and tried to guard it. Then it’s a lot of talking and just working through it.”
The Warriors demonstrated their balance as 10 players scored, led by Ian Haug’s 21 points, 18 in the first half. In the first he hit 8 of 9 shots. The only shot he missed was a desperation three as the half expired. Haug finished 9 of 12 from the floor, which included five threes, each of which stoked the crowd.
“That’s Ian,” Stanfield said. “And, he’s doing enough on both sides of the ball. He’s taking some pride in his defense and rebounding. He’s moving without the ball better, probably the best he has since the beginning of the year. He’s getting through, dragging his guy with him, and the kids are finding him on the fill cuts, and he hits them.
“He’s got kind of an awkward shot that’s hard to guard, but boy it goes in. He’s worked at it over his career. All the kids have.”
Comstock contributed 11 points, 10 in the second half. He made 4 of 7 shots and 3 of 4 free throws. He also helped Brainerd rule the boards, pulling down seven rebounds. Jacob Blong added 10 points, eight in the second half.
“I thought Marcus and Jacob down low were phenomenal on defense, Jagar (Hanson) too,” Stanfield said. “They slid over on the cross down on the baseline, and sealed it off I don’t know how many times. It’s really fun to see when that plan works.”
Unselfishness has been one of the hallmarks of this team and it was obvious Thursday night. It doesn’t matter who scores, virtually everyone contributes.
“It goes up as a team,” Comstock said. “It doesn’t matter who scores it.”
Jack Sauer was one of the most unselfish. He scored seven points and dished out six assists. Chris Bowman and Tate Geraets each collected three assists.
“Jack just played a heck of a game,” Stanfield said. “He didn’t score a lot of points, but they’ve got to honor everything that he can do. He can dribble-drive, he can shoot the three, he rebounds (5 against Willmar), he guards the best perimeter player. Tonight, like you saw, he had numerous assists. When Ian got hot, Jack hunted him and gave him passes that he could hit shots off.
“Jack’s just a really good high school basketball player, so is Tony (Sauer). Tony did a lot of nice things tonight. He had a couple of really good passes, he defended well.
“Those two guys are kind of our energy. They keep us focused, and give us good ball pressure all the time. Without those two on the perimeter, we’re not as good a team.”
Willmar 12 23 — 35
Brainerd 28 41 — 69
Joe Leuze 2, Jordan Geurtz 6, Dylan Schueler 3, Austin Rambow 9, Alex Grove 6, Joel Carter 2, Austin Grove 2, Adam Nibaur 2, Tyler Stegeman 3. FG 14-51 (27 percent). FT 5-9 (56 percent). 3-point: 2-19. Turnovers: 18.
Jack Sauer 7, Jacob Blong 10, Marcus Comstock 11, Ian Haug 21, Chris Bowman 2, Tony Sauer 4, Jagar Hanson 3, Tate Geraets 7, Isaiah Smith 2, Geoff Sheflo 2. FG 26-65 (40 percent). FT 11-16 (69 percent). 3-point: 8-24 (33 percent). Turnovers: 11.