In Minnesota Community College Conference basketball, every game is big.
But Saturday's 3 p.m. showdown between the Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball team and the Fergus Falls Spartans is the kind of game that separates the pretenders from the contenders.
Fergus Falls leads the North Division with a 10-1 record and is 19-1 overall. The Raiders are second in the North at 8-2 and 14-6 overall.
The Raiders can take solace in the fact the game will be played in the CLC gym, where they are 10-0 this season.
The Spartans come into the game averaging close to 90 points a game while giving up only 71.
Offensively, Fergus Falls is led by Aaron Austin's 17.7 points, 5.4 assists and 2.6 steals per game. Nick Hansen chips in 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Raiders coach Jim Russell knows Austin can hurt a team from anywhere on the court, so he's given the chore of defending him to one of his more experienced players.
"(Austin) is a transfer from Northern Colorado," said Russell. "He can flat out shoot the ball. Justin (Heitkamp) will get to guard him because he understands the game well and has the size to contest the jump shot."
Another player Russell is counting on is Staples-Motley native Bobby Burton.
"Bobby has been one of the most consistent players on the team in division games," said Russell. "He's one of the best defenders in the state, plus he's added some scoring."
Before the Raiders can look ahead to Fergus Falls, they have to first get past Northland on Wednesday as they travel to Thief River Falls for an 8 p.m. game.
"Northland is the only team to beat Fergus Falls," Russell said, "so it's not an easy trip. If we don't take care of Northland, Saturday's game won't mean as much."
If there's one thing the Central Lakes College women's basketball team has learned, it's that the Raiders have to come ready to play every time.
CLC learned that lesson the hard way last Saturday as it lost big to Rainy River on the road.
Don't expect the Raiders to make the same mistake twice as they journey to Northland for a 6 p.m. contest Wednesday and host Fergus Falls 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Raiders (8-2 North Division, 10-9 overall) are tied with Vermilion for second in the North, but hold the tiebreaker with two wins over the Ironwomen.
Northland and Fergus Falls are tied for the fourth-place spot with 6-5 North Division records.
The Raiders defeated Northland 71-59 earlier this season and will face Fergus Falls for the first time.
Spartans sharp shooter Stacy Tenneson is the sixth-leading scorer in the North at 14.9 points and is seventh in three-point shooting.
After a long drive to Thief River Falls, the Raiders will have to deal with Northland's Sara Gross and her 14.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
But the Raiders have scoring and depth of their own. Val Diedrich, Bobbi VanWechel and Tara Storts all rank in the top-12 in scoring in the North. Diedrich and VanWechel are also in the top four in three-point shooting.
Reserves Rene Springer and Megan Eastman will be expected to give the starters a break and to contribute some scoring and defense.
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