LITTLE FALLS -- On Dec. 28, the Little Falls Flyers boys' basketball team dropped to 2-5 after losing to Moorhead in the Spuds' Invitational.
The Flyers have won 12 of 15 games since, turning their season around with some deadly free-throw shooting.
That was apparent in a 59-49 victory over the Brainerd Warriors Friday. The Flyers buried 26 of 32 free-throw attempts, 15 of 18 in the final quarter.
Trailing 43-40 early in the final period, the Flyers rattled off nine straight points, five at the foul line, to surge ahead 49-43. Brainerd couldn't get closer than four the rest of the way.
"They had a lot of second-chance opportunities on offensive rebounds," Warriors coach Matt Urbanek said. "We didn't do a very good job of boxing out. They did a good job capitalizing on their opportunities. That was a big story in the game."
Little Falls finished the story by scoring the game's final five points, all at the line.
"That has been a nice adjustment the kids have made," Flyers coach Kevin Jordan said of his team's free-throw improvement. "In the month of December, when we were 2-5, we were shooting in the high 50s (percent), low 60s, as a team.
"The guys have done a good job making a commitment, putting in the extra time. As the year has gone along, we've gotten better at the free-throw line. It has turned into one of our strengths."
One of Brainerd's strengths is its untiring effort, which was obvious again Friday.
Trailing 32-23 at halftime after surrendering a 13-point Flyer run, the Warriors stormed back in the third quarter and outscored Little Falls 15-8.
A 12-point Warrior run closed the gap to 40-38 as Mike Zauhar provided six points in the spurt.
Jake Phillips opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer and a jumper to thrust Brainerd into a 43-40 lead, its first since scoring the game's opening basket.
"I think our guys played hard," Urbanek said. "Late in the game, I think we stopped doing what got us back in the game, which was moving the ball on offense, taking care of the ball, taking good shots. We didn't do that as well late in the game and that hurt us.
"Little Falls also turned up their defense when the game was on the line. They deserve a lot of credit for that."
Mark Kasella scored seven of his 15 points in the final quarter to lead Little Falls. Renzo Ferrari provided a spark off the bench by scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter. Tony Golden added 12 points for the Flyers, who improved to 8-4 in the conference, 14-8 overall.
"I like it when we're in a tight basketball game more than I do with a 13-point lead," Jordan said. "It seems like we relax a little bit (with the lead). We know the other team is going to make a run at us. We talked about how to stop those runs.
"The last couple games we haven't been able to stop the momentum of the other team. Once the game gets tight, the kids buckle down, and their concentration, focus and intensity is back. That's when we're at our best. When we relax, we lose focus and we're not as good."
Zauhar paced Brainerd with 14 points. Jorgen Hartje added 12 and Phillips 11 as the Warriors slipped to 4-8 and 9-12.
Brainerd 10 13 15 11 -- 49
Little Falls 11 21 8 19 -- 59
Derek Levno 0, Jake Phillips 11, Mike Zauhar 14, Jorgen Hartje 12, Bryce Cloutier 4, Paul Tuchscherer 5, Dustin Erickson 3. Team totals: FG 20-47 (43 percent), FT 4-7 (57 percent). Conference -- 4-8. Overall -- 9-12. Next game: at Staples-Motley 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Little Falls (59)
Mark Hartwig 8, Paul Hochsprung 3, Tony Golden 12, Noah Czech 6, Mark Kasella 15, Renzo Ferrari 13, Blake Smith 2. Team totals: FG 15-34 (44 percent), FT 26-32 (81 percent). Conference -- 8-4. Overall -- 14-8. Next game: Tuesday at Alexandria
3-point baskets -- 5-11 (Zauhar 2, Hartje, Phillips), LF 3-10 (Ferrari 3). Total fouls -- B 22, LF 13.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.