Like Popeye needing a can of spinach, the Central Lakes College Raiders women's basketball team needed something to get its engines revved up and its pistons firing.
With about 12 minutes to go in the second half, the Raiders got the petrol they needed, thanks to a trapping, full-court defense that forced turnovers into easy baskets.
The result was an 89-69 win over the Itasca College Vikings Wednesday. The victory gave the Raiders a 10-3 record in the North Division with one game to play before the state tournament.
"(The press) just loosened everybody up and they relaxed," Raiders coach Dennis Eastman said. "From the last 12 minutes on we played pretty good. But leading up to that it was like kicking a mule. The mule wasn't going to go, so we just kept kicking it to at least get it to gallop. Finally, that mule turned into a thoroughbred."
Itasca couldn't handle the Raiders' pressure and the fastbreak points did wonders for CLC's offense.
CLC was able throw the ball down low to Kayleen Starcevic, who scored 12 points. It went outside to Tara Storts, who finished with 18, including four three-pointers.
And, it went wherever Val Diedrich was. Diedrich scored a game-high 24 points. She scored inside, outside and just about anywhere she wanted.
The Raiders also received 13 points from Bobbi VanWechel and 10 from Melissa Sahlberg.
The game was still in question late in the second half even though CLC's new-found energy helped it regain a 10-point lead.
But a Diedrich three sparked a 10-2 run that gave the Raiders an 81-63 lead. Storts nailed the Vikings' coffin shut as she sank two consecutive three-pointers to finish the game and seal the victory.
It was fitting that in their last home game, Diedrich, Storts and Sahlberg, all sophomores, played starring roles. The three Raiders have been through the lean times in the last two years and are now reaping the benefits of their hard work.
"Every one of them brings something to the table," said Eastman. "Melissa doesn't say much but she's gotten more assertive on the court. Tara's not afraid to shoot the ball, she'll shoot it from anywhere. And what can I say about Val? She's leading us in all statistics. But she's learned to let her teammates take some of the load and that comes from maturity."
After the game, Storts, one of the more outspoken Raiders, was emotional as she looked back at her final home game.
"I had a blast, it was a lot of fun," Storts said of her two years as a Raider. "In the beginning of the year a lot of people thought we wouldn't win any games this year. But I guess we showed them."
Itasca College 41 28 -- 69
Central Lakes 40 49 -- 89
Darcie Maninga 12, Vicki Friermuth 21, Sara Smith 10, Leah Wangberg 7, Ashley Moran 4, Mary Hoffer 15. Team totals: FG 28-68 (41 percent), FT 10-14 (71 percent).
CENTRAL LAKES (89)
Val Diedrich 24, Bobbi VanWechel 13, Tara Storts 18, Kayleen Starcevic 12, Melissa Sahlberg 10, Rene Springer 2, Lindsey Finco 1, Helena Karlsgodt 9. Team totals: FG 34-69 (49 percent), FT 14-19 (74 percent). Conference -- 10-3. Overall -- 12-10. Next game: At Fergus Falls 6 p.m. today.
3-point baskets -- CLC 7 (Diedrich 2, Storts 4, VanWechel), ICC 3. Halftime -- ICC 41, CLC 40.
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