For 40 minutes Saturday, two women's basketball teams crashed, clawed and collided on the court at Central Lakes College, each trying to establish an advantage and earn a spot at the top of the Northern Division standings.
As the clock ran down, the CLC Raiders and Fergus Falls Spartans played aggressive, exciting basketball. But, it was what happened when the clock was not running that gave Fergus Falls a 74-63 win and the bragging rights that, at least for a week, go along with holding the top spot in the conference standings.
The Spartans' court-side decision to throw a full-court press at the Raiders, combined with 73 percent free throw shooting, enabled Fergus Falls to improve to 10-1 in the division while the Raiders slipped to 9-3.
CLC has only two games remaining on its conference schedule to close that gap. One of those games is a rematch with the Spartans that will be played Thursday at Fergus Falls.
CLC coach Dennis Eastman will try to use the brief time between games to perform the magic necessary to transform his team's 11-point loss into a win.
"This game was frustrating," said Eastman. "It was a tough loss but we have to come right back and play them again. We don't have much turnaround time. These two teams mirror each other so well. We run the same offenses. We run the same defenses. We do everything exactly the same."
Eastman pointed to the teams' similar styles of play as one reason this contest was so rough and, at times, ragged.
"When two teams know each other that well," said Eastman, "they get into games where there's no flow because you're banging, you're trying to fight through screens. It was good, aggressive basketball."
The Raiders kick-started by getting 3-pointers first from Beth Frost and later from Heather Olson, that keyed a 19-14 CLC advantage 10 minutes into the opening period. That's when the Spartans called a timeout and went to a full-court press.
The Raiders turned the ball over three times in a row against that press and went on to post 19 turnovers while Fergus Falls turned the ball over just nine times.
"We played fine the first 10 minutes of the game," said Eastman. "But then, once again, the press bothered us. A lot of teams have used the press against us and we've worked on it in practice so we shouldn't be surprised at it. I think we were playing so hard that our people were trying to do too much."
The tenacious, pressing defense and the free throw shooting of, among others, second-year post player Alayna Follingstad, helped the Spartans build a 40-36 halftime lead. Follingstad finished by making 13 of her 15 free throw attempts.
In all, Fergus Falls canned 27 of its 30 free throws while CLC made 20 of 35. The Spartans' 73 percent clip to just 57 percent for CLC was crucial to the outcome.
"The things that killed us were turnovers and free throws," said Eastman "It could have been a different game if we had just made our one-and-ones."
Amy Solorz and Liz Reis fouled out for CLC and Jeanna Baratto, Olson and Cassey Veith each were charged with four fouls. The Spartans lost Jessica Draper and Follingstad to fouls.
It was fouls and free throw shooting that enabled Fergus Falls to increase its lead in the second half. The Raiders were outscored 34-27 in the game's final 20 minutes, with most of that advantage coming via free throws.
"They hit the free throws when they needed to and we just didn't hit enough of ours," said Eastman. "There were a lot of kids with foul troubles out there."
Four Raiders finished in double figures including Olson with 15 points, Baratto 13 and Solorz 12. Amy Martinson, who played all but 2:06 of the game, added 14 points for the Raiders.
FERGUS FALLS (74)
Julie Hemker 5, Kelly Martin 4, Heidi Malone 20, Jeana Schaefer 1, Naomi Moerke 8, Jessica Draper 7, Alayna Follingstad 19, Amy Schoeck 10. Team Totals: FG 22-68 (32 percent), FT 27-37 (73 percent). Conference -- 10-1.
CENTRAL LAKES (63)
Amy Solorz 12, Jeanna Baratto 13, Heather Olson 15, Beth Frost 6, Cassey Veith 2, Liz Reis 1, Amy Martinson 14. Team Totals: FG 19-59 (32 percent), FT 20-35 (57 percent). Conference --9-3. Overall --14-7. Next game-- Host Itasca 6 p.m. Wednesday; at Fergus Falls 6 p.m. Thursday.
3-point baskets --CLC 5 (Baratto 3, Frost 2), FF 3 (Malone 2, Moerke). Rebounds -- CLC 50 (Martinson 15, Solorz 9), FF 54 (Draper 10). Turnovers -- CLC 19, FF 9. Total fouls -- CLC 28, FF 23. Fouled out -- CLC Solorz, Reis, FF Draper, Follingstad. Assists -- CLC 14 (Solorz 8), FF 13. Steals -- CLC 5 (Solorz 3), FF 6. Blocks -- CLC 2, FF 2. Halftime -- CLC 36, FF 40.
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