It's always something.
First, the Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball team had a handful of players leave the team for assorted reasons. The defections left the squad with only 10 players.
Then, before Saturday's contest against Rainy River, the Raiders had another team member leave for football -- to watch the Vikings not to play. That left the team with just nine players.
Shortly after tipoff, Joe Sahlberg went down with an injury that further depleted the team. Suddenly, the stands were more crowded than the Raiders' bench.
Still, the Raiders responded with a solid 80-62 Minnesota Community College Conference Northern Division win to even their conference record at 1-1.
Apparently, a team can get used to dealing with trouble, maybe even learn to thrive on it.
"This was a good team win," said Raiders coach Jim Russell. "We overcame a lot of adversity. We had one kid, Joe Nayquonabe, who went to the Vikings' game. And Wade Mortenson was really sick but he just gutted it out for us tonight. Sahlberg got hurt. He has a hip pointer.
"This team can't afford those things but it's amazing that sometimes a little adversity does wonders for a team. Everybody came off the bench and did a great job.
I'm really proud of these guys. We have changed roles now. We are the underdogs. Before the game I told the team that being an underdog is good. All of my life I've been an underdog in the coaching world. I am the underdog. And when you're the underdog there's only one way to go; you put your heart on the line and you go after it. I'm really proud of these guys."
The Raiders came out strong, running off to a 10-0 lead that Rainy River could never overcome. Despite having only seven players available, CLC held off the Voyageurs and actually increased its lead as the game progressed. CLC repeatedly broke an aggressive Rainy River press and the vocal Voyageurs coach who relentlessly ranted at the officials.
"Tonight," said Russell, "we had a 10-point lead and increased it to 20. That tells me a lot about this team. To me, that says we have a lot of composure. I asked our guys to give me a good effort and they did that. Rainy River is a good team and we held them to 60-some points. When you hold a college team to 60-some points, you're doing something right."
The Raiders held a 38-29 halftime lead. Most of the Rainy River offense came from the inside play of 6-foot-6 forward Terrance McCray, who had 13 of his 15 points in the first half. Coming out of the locker room, the Raiders' sagging defense neutralized McCray. His frustration finally surfaced by way of a profane outburst that earned him a double technical and earned him a game ejection.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," said Russell. "(McCray) is a good athlete, a big guy who jumps out of the gym. I told our guys, 'sag it in there' and they did that defensively. They really helped each other out.
"But the real key tonight was that we rebounded better. In spite of being really sick, Wade Mortenson led us with about 12 rebounds. And then (Brandon) Flanders came off the bench and gave us seven or eight rebounds and also our guards rebounded. Those were the big keys."
Offensively, the Raiders were led by Garth McFadden who scored 23 points and Jay Mrozek who added 20.
"Those two gave us strong inside and outside scoring which is nice," said Russell. "Everybody scored tonight. This was a great, great effort from our bench."
It was a big effort and a big win for a team and a bench that, day by day, continues to shrink in numbers but not in effort.
Rainy River (62)
Terrance McCray 15, Damon James 8, Brad Mattson 5, Wayne Gill 5, Jon Lang 2, Nicholas Thompson 12, Chris Swenson 15. Team totals: FG 23-62 (37 percent), FT 13-22 (59 percent).
Central Lakes College (80)
Joe Sahlberg 6, Brandon Flanders 6, Adam Walker 6, Garth McFadden 23, Aaron Otteson 3, Joel Clough 8, Travis Janich 2, Jay Mrozek 20, Wade Mortenson 6. Team totals: FG 26-80 (33 percent), FT 20-29 (69 percent). Conference -- 1-1. Overall -- 5-7. Next game: At Mesabi 8 p.m. Wednesday.
3-point baskets -- CLC 8 (Sahlberg 2, Walker 2, McFadden 3, Otteson); RR 3 (Thompson 3). Fouled out -- RR, McCray. Halftime -- CLC 38; RR 29.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.