Few probably gave the Brainerd Warriors girls' basketball team much of a chance.
The Willmar Cardinals came to town Thursday tied for the Central Lakes Conference lead and were 3-0 overall.
But a stirring final 10 minutes enabled the Warriors to pull out a thrilling 50-47 victory.
Trailing 47-43 with 3:27 left the Warriors got the ball to Emily Thesing. The senior point guard's tear-drop 3-pointer pulled Brainerd within 47-46 with 2:29 left.
Even Santa Claus (timekeeper Bill Bailey) seemed to be on Brainerd's side Thursday night. As his Warriors beat the Willmar Cardinals at the buzzer, Brainerd coach Carl Hendrickson celebrated. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Kelsey (Evans) had her hand in my face, but we needed some momentum," Thesing said. "I was lucky enough to make the shot. I don't know if I was planning on it going in, but luckily it went in. It gave us a boost, and defensively we were able to get a stop."
Alex Sauer's steal in the final 50 seconds led to Tess Rahto's putback in traffic, giving Brainerd a 48-47 edge with 29 seconds remaining.
Willmar missed a three, and Thesing got the ball to KB Capers, who kissed a layup off the glass with eight seconds left to clinch it.
"Since we're a young team, coming in and beating this team kind of sends a message to the conference and section that we can play and win games, especially when we're down, so it's a good win for us," Thesing said.
Brainerd was outscored 22-18 in the second half after building a 32-25 halftime edge. The Cardinals had runs of six, four and seven points in the second half to forge ahead 44-37.
Warriors 50, Willmar 47
The key: Brainerd outscored the Cardinals 13-3 in the last six minutes.
Conference: Brd 2-1, Will 2-1Overall: Brd 2-2, Will 3-1
Next: Brainerd at St. Cloud Apollo 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Warriors outscored Willmar 13-3 in the last six minutes as the Cardinals went to a deliberate offense, passing the ball several times, looking for layups.
"They pulled the ball out early when they were having success going at our defense," Warriors coach Carl Hendrickson said. "We just had to do something different.
"Sara Parsons came in and gave us some great hustle minutes playing on the top of our defense. She's never played there before. She will do whatever we ask her to do."
Rahto led the Warriors with 14 points, 10 in the first half. Thesing added 13 and Capers nine.
"I thought, for our fourth game, our post people did a good job looking for each other inside," Hendrickson said. "We got a number of good looks, good baskets inside. We missed some, but this was a nice way to end the week after playing six minutes, maybe, against Moorhead (on Tuesday). This was a good complete game for us."
Brainerd finished the first half with an 8-point run. Emilee Branum's layup at the buzzer gave the Warriors a 32-25 edge.
"I thought the first half we played very well defensively," Hendrickson said. "Offensively, we put on 32 points. We didn't rebound very well tonight. I know we got hammered on the boards, but in the defense we were playing we were out of position a number of times. We didn't really block people out.
"I'm very proud of our girls. Being down seven, we hustled, we went to a little half-court trap, got some turnovers, made some baskets, and just came up big when we needed to. It was a tremendous win for us early in the season."
Emily Thesing dribbled up the court to score against the Willmar Cardinals. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Willmar 25 22 - 47
Brainerd 32 18 - 50
Kelsey Evans 15, Hannah Smith 14, Emily Nelsen 2, Jena Thompson 9, Mariel Aamot 3, Alex Lippert 4. FG: 17-53. FT: 11-23. 3-point baskets: Evans, Aamot. Turnovers: 20.
Emilee Branum 4, Tess Rahto 14, Emily Thesing 13, KB Capers 9, Sara Parsons 3, Alex Sauer 4, Nikker Graumann 3. FG: 18-52. FT: 11-16. 3-point baskets: Thesing 3. Turnovers: 14.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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