On “Meet the Warriors Night,” a throng of Brainerd youths were admitted free with a paying adult and lined up after the game to obtain a photo autographed by the Central Lakes Conference champion Warriors.
The youngsters picked a good night to be in attendance as they watched their heroes throttle the Rocori Spartans 72-50 Monday night.
“The senior parents kind of put it together, they did the work on it,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “It’s a nice deal. It’s fun to see the little kids here. They look up to these guys. What a great bunch of guys to look up to.”
It was another in a long line of outstanding efforts by the Warriors this season. They shot 52 percent from the field (27 of 52), made 10 of 12 free throws and forced 24 turnovers, which they cashed into 24 points.
Jack Sauer scored 18 points, Jacob Blong and Marcus Comstock each added 15 and Ian Haug 10 as Brainerd won its ninth game in a row, and won for the 23rd time in 24 games overall.
Brainerd outrebounded the Spartans 26-24 as Comstock grabbed six boards and Blong four.
Jonah Eisenschenk, a 6-5 senior post, paced the Spartans with 13 points but he was limited to a single basket in the second half by a blanketing Warrior defense. Eisenschenk scored 33 when Brainerd beat the Spartans 80-71 Jan. 19 at Cold Spring.
“Right when (Stanfield) walked in at halftime he said this is probably the biggest game we’ve had, as far as talking goes,” Blong said of the defensive effort. “I thought we all stepped it up, especially the second half. It really shows at the end.”
Rocori pulled within nine points early in the second half, but didn’t get closer.
“They’re a real good team,” Stanfield said. “They have three or four really good players. The Eisenschenk kid is one of the better kids in the state, I think. He’s a strong kid, he shoots the ball well, he plays good defense. I think we took him out of the game, a good portion of it. I think he was frustrated a little bit.
“Jack and Tony (Sauer) once again, on the ball, just completely overwhelmed the perimeter guys for them. That’s what they do. I wouldn’t want to play against them for very long. That defense transitions into offense and we got some easy baskets.
In the first, Brainerd scored 15 points off of 12 Rocori turnovers and shot 53 percent from the field (16 of 30) to seize a 37-27 halftime lead.
Comstock couldn’t miss in the first half, scoring 15 points as he made all seven of his attempts on layups and sank a free throw.
After Rocori took a 4-2 lead, the Warriors reeled off 13 unanswered points for a 15-4 advantage.
“Marcus in the first half, I thought was a handful for them,” Stanfield said. “He scored all of his points in that first half. The second half they adjusted and weren’t going to let him dribble drive anymore. That opened up some threes for us and opened up Jacob on the other side, and he scored some easy baskets.
“Jacob took a big charge late in the game, which was a big play. Eisenschenk got his fifth foul on the charge.
“All in all, it was a really good effort by our kids and I’m really happy with them.”
Later in the first, Brainerd put together two 6-point runs but the Spartans wouldn’t go away, shooting 45 percent from the floor (10 of 22).
Brainerd plays its final regular-season home game Tuesday (Feb. 26) against Grand Rapids. It ends the regular season Friday at Fergus Falls.
“We want to be undefeated in the conference, that’s one of our goals,” Blong said, “and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Rocori 27 23 — 50
Brainerd 37 35 — 72
Mac Mueller 2, Zach Templin 8, Jonah Eisenschenk 13, Jeron Terres 10, Nick Thorpe 6, Jake Hennen 9, Zach Schneider 2. FG 20-42 (48 percent). FT 5-12 (42 percent). 3-point: 5-13. Turnovers: 24.
Jack Sauer 18, Jacob Blong 15, Marcus Comstock 15, Ian Haug 10, Chris Bowman 5, Tony Sauer 7, Isaiah Smith 2. FG 27-52 (52 percent). FT 10-12 (83 percent). 3-point: 8-24. Turnovers: 13.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.