Thursday was a festive night for the Brainerd Warriors girls' basketball program. Eight seniors played their final home game and Brainerd Youth Athletic Association teams were honored at halftime.
In addition, the seniors had an opportunity to make history and they delivered. A 61-43 victory over the Sartell Sabres gave Brainerd a share of only the fourth Central Lakes Conference title in program history.
The Warriors share the title with Willmar, which defeated Little Falls 72-51 Thursday. Brainerd and Willmar finished with 11-3 conference marks.
"We knew coming in that it was a big night," said senior center Amy Kittelson, who poured in a career-high 28 points. "Not only was it seniors' night and BYAA night, but it was for the conference championship. We came out fired up. We knew we had to win this one."
Kittelson was on fire from field as she buried 12 of 15 attempts. She also nailed all four of her free throws.
Other seniors making their final home appearance were point guard Joan Ebnet, who contributed 12 points, Bekah Hewitt, who added eight, Cassie Pieri, Katie Ahlberg, Missy Bordwell, Helena Karlsgodt and Megan Steiger.
"Most of us have been the core group, ever since back in seventh grade we have been playing together," Kittelson said. "This is what you dream about when you're a senior."
Brainerd improved to 17-5 overall with one game remaining, Saturday at Staples-Motley.
"The mission coming in, first of all, was to win the conference," Warriors coach Carl Hendrickson said. "That was part of the momentum. A big part of the momentum was our eight seniors knew this was their last game on this floor, no matter what happens in the section. They just took it to heart. They came out and played with a lot of enthusiasm and with some emotion.
"We were able to generate a lot of good offense, especially in the first quarter and a half. That got us on a good roll."
The 6-foot-1 Kittelson helped Brainerd roll to its sixth victory in seven games. She scored 11 points in the opening quarter. She added eight in a 14-point burst that put Brainerd ahead 26-9 in the second quarter.
But the Sabres began to recover when Kittelson was assessed her third foul with 5:17 left in the third quarter and took a seat on the bench. Sartell drew within 36-30 late in the third quarter before an 11-point Brainerd spurt dashed the Sabres' hopes.
Brainerd's defense continued to stifle the opposition. The Sabres were limited to 40-percent shooting and did not have a player score in double figures.
"Defensively, we did a good job controlling (guard Katherine) Volk, not letting her get some of those post-up baskets they like her to get," Hendrickson said. "We extended their offense so it was hard for them to get the ball inside. Most of the shots they got were from outside, although they did get some putbacks on us.
"We did a nice job keeping pressure on the basketball and covering up in the paint where we needed to cover up."
Sartell 9 6 15 13 -- 43
Brainerd 18 8 14 21 -- 61
Amanda Loudon 9, Emily Skaj 5, Katherine Volk 5, Stacie Oistad 9, Brianna Johansen 4, Katie Dolan 6, Gina Silvers 4, Hannah Frericks 1. Team totals: FG 17-42 (40 percent), FT 8-17 (47 percent). Conference -- 6-8. Overall -- 13-11.
Joan Ebnet 12, Brooke Rollins 5, Bekah Hewitt 8, Megan Arns 6, Amy Kittelson 28, Cassie Pieri 2. Team totals: FG 27-57 (47 percent), FT 4-6 (67 percent). Conference -- 11-3. Overall -- 17-5. Next game: 6 p.m. Saturday at Staples-Motley
3-point baskets -- S 1-3 (Loudon), B 3-10 (Ebnet 2, Rollins). Rebounds -- S 20, B 34 (Arns 11, Kittelson 8, Ebnet 5). Turnovers -- S 15, B 11. Total fouls -- S 14, B 14. Assists -- B 21 (Ebnet 6, Rollins 5). Steals -- B 8 (Ebnet 4). Blocks -- B 4 (Kittelson 2).
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.