As a child, Brainerd senior Amy Kittelson dreamed of having a great year to close out her career with the Warriors girls' basketball team.
The dream keeps getting better as the Warriors defeated Cloquet 57-49 Tuesday night to earn a No. 2 seed in Section 8, Class 4A.
"Ever since you're a little kid, you say, 'Senior year, we're going to go all the way,'" Kittelson said. "This year, things just seemed to fall into place and it has been a dream come true. Hopefully we can keep the senior-year thing going."
The Warriors did everything it takes to dominate a team as Brainerd built a 47-28 lead through the first three quarters. Kittelson scored a game-high 20 points during that span before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
Then the wheels started coming off the cart.
The Lumberjacks took advantage of five Warrior turnovers and Brainerd's 3-for-9 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter to make the game close. Cloquet pulled to within five points at 51-46 late in the fourth before sophomore Megan Arns grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and hit her foul shot for a three-point play. She finished with 17 points.
"I don't know if it was nerve-wracking," Brainerd head coach Carl Hendrickson said. "It was frustrating at times. You play so well to get a lead like that and then you let down -- that's when a team starts gaining momentum, and they did. We knew coming in that Cloquet was going to hustle for four quarters."
What got Brainerd its lead was a pressure defense that forced the Lumberjacks into 15 turnovers in the first half. The press also led to Kittelson's early exit as she helped out on defense.
"That's been the thing we have to do -- come out and put pressure on teams and get some turnovers," Hendrickson said. "But they were quick. Then you get people helping out on defense and taking fouls. We can't afford to do that, put people in jeopardy that we need on the floor."
"(Kittelson) has got to be on the floor for us."
Watching that lead start to slip away was tough for the Warriors co-captain to watch.
"That was kind of rough, not being able to get in," Kittelson said. "I think we just relaxed a little bit on offense and started giving up turnovers. Plus, Cloquet's a good team."
Brainerd hit 4-of-5 foul shots down the stretch to keep Cloquet at bay. The win puts the Warriors in a position to win the Central Lakes Conference with a win against Sartell on Thursday.
"We're hoping we can keep up the momentum we picked up, plus we'll be fired up to end our career on our home court with a win," Kittelson said.
Cloquet 11 9 8 21 -- 49
Brainerd 22 12 13 10 -- 57
Alyson Mielke 13, Liz Johnson 7, Teresa Staffon 4, Tiffany Nendick 9, Cassi Johnson 2, Leah Yetka 4, Amanda Hatch 2, Abbi Johnson 4, Brooke Tondryk 4. Team totals: FG 17-53 (32 percent), FT 12-23 (52 percent).
Megan Arns 17, Brooke Rollins 13, Bekah Hewitt 4, Julie Austin 3, Amy Kittelson 20. Team totals: FG 23-49 (47 percent), FT 11-16 (69 percent). Conference -- 11-3 in Central Lakes. Overall -- 16-5. Next game: hosts Sartell Thursday 7:30 p.m.
3-point baskets -- C 3 (Mielke 2, Nendick), B 0. Rebounds -- C 19, B 34 (Arns 11, Rollins 7). Turnovers -- C 16, B 18. Total fouls -- C 20, B 21. Fouled out -- Nendick, Hatch, Kittelson. Assists -- B 15 (Arns 4, Ebnet 4, Austin 4. Steals -- B 9 (Kittelson 2, Arns 2, Ebnet 2. Blocks -- B 2 (Ebnet, Arns).
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