For the first 25 minutes Brandon Hilts enjoyed a great seat in the Pequot Lakes High School gymnasium Jan. 9.
When teammate Tucker Sheley was whistled for his fourth personal foul, Hilts lost his seat but found a spot on the list of the most clutch performances in Crow Wing County's best rivalry.
Hilts, a 5-foot-10, junior guard for Class 2A's second-ranked and undefeated Pequot Lakes, landed in the middle of the "Pandemonium of Pequot" - a Mid-State Conference boys' basketball battle between the Rangers and Crosby-Ironton Rangers, who at the time were ranked third in Class 2A and also were undefeated.
Brandon Hilts proved pivotal for Pequot off the bench
It was Hilts first varsity action of the night, but not his first of the season. In eight varsity games this season he had scored 17 points, but was shooting just 17.6 percent from the field.
Hilts entered with the Rangers leading 48-37 and Pequot's floor general sitting on the bench. It was his job to replace Sheley, last year's Brainerd Dispatch player of the year, in Pequot's biggest game of the season.
Hilts delivered. On his first field goal attempt he drained a 3-pointer to put Pequot behind by eight. On Pequot's next possession, Hilts hit his next attempt, a two-pointer, that cut C-I's lead to six. Hilts' five points were part of a 10-2 run, helping Pequot climb back and eventually win.
"We've encouraged him to shoot the ball, but more importantly to recognize the difference between a good shot and a bad shot," said Pequot coach Garry Grewe. "In the last three or four games he's taken better shots. But he's never had a lack of confidence to shoot. That's what you need coming off the bench."
It was Pequot's bench that helped the Patriots remain unbeaten. Senior post Matt Bartella finished with four points and eight rebounds to move Pequot's string of consecutive regular-season victories to 34.
Pequot Lakes senior forward Jesse Fisher went up for a dunk in a boys' basketball game between the Patriots and Crosby-Ironton Rangers Jan. 9 at Pequot Lakes. The teams face off again at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Crosby. Brainerd Dispatch/File photo » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Bench production played a big part in the first meeting. C-I's Joe McLaughlin tallied six points in the first half, helping the Rangers build a 10-point halftime lead.
"I think bench play is always important and the bigger the game the more important it becomes," said Rangers coach Dave Galovich. "A lot of times good bench play can go unnoticed in the stat book. We ask our guys to play good defense and rebound and on the offensive end to take care of the ball. Those things don't show in the stats but lead to good, solid minutes."
Whichever team's bench produces in Friday's rematch could determine if Pequot sweeps or if the Rangers, now ranked fourth in 2A, earn a split.
Patriots at Rangers
Who: Class 2A's second-ranked Pequot Lakes Patriots (12-0) vs. Class 2A's fourth-ranked Crosby-Ironton Rangers
What: Second game of a Mid-State Conference boys' basketball rivalry
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Crosby-Ironton High School
Cost: $5 adults, $3 students. Tickets go on sale at 5 p.m. Friday.
Friday's "Chaos in Crosby" begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Ranger Gym. Tickets go on sale at 5 p.m. C-I activities director Dave Niemi said the school is working toward getting a closed circuit TV feed into the school's auditorium for fan overflow, but wasn't sure if it could be done.
Friday's rematch should be similar to the first game. Look for both teams to change strategy a little.
"Our goal is to still win the game, but we want to play the best ballgame we can," said Grewe. "Our goal right now is to keep getting better. We'll try some different things that we didn't do in the first game. Like everything, some things work and others don't, but we're still going to go and try and win the game."
Said Galovich: "With a quick turnover, adjustments will be minimal. There are some things that we have done in the past that we didn't do the first time against them. We certainly have to look at those options and that's something we've definitely talked about."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.