The Brainerd Warrior girls' basketball team was hoping its first victory would be an appropriate Christmas present.
Brainerd appeared on its way to its first win Tuesday after seizing a 27-23 halftime lead against the Park Center Pirates in the Brainerd Sports Boosters Holiday Classic.
Instead, the Pirates built a 50-39 lead in the second half and held off a raging Warriors comeback for a 62-57 victory. In the second half, Park Center shot 57 percent (13 of 23) from the field and made 10 of 12 free throws.
The defeat dropped Brainerd to 0-7 with a date against Staples-Motley 1 p.m. Thursday for third place.
Park Center 62, Warriors 57
The key: Jamie Zelinsky scored 22 points and Park Center shot 57 percent from the field and 83 percent from the foul line in the second half.
Overall: Brd 0-7, PC 3-5.
Next: Staples-Motley at Brainerd 1 p.m. Thursday for third place in Brainerd tournament.
"I don't think we've ever been in this position before where we started out 0-7," Warriors coach Carl Hendrickson said. "We're still playing a lot of kids, a lot of young kids. We're still looking for that factor that's going to get us going."
Brainerd finally got going after getting outscored 27-12 in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half. Behind solid defense, scrappy play and accurate free throw shooting, the Warriors outscored Park Center 18-12 the rest of the game.
With 50 seconds remaining, the Warriors' Stephanie Neugebauer hit a turnaround jumper. Her layup with 22 seconds left pulled Brainerd within 56-55.
Two free throws by Megan Schlauderaff gave Park Center a 58-55 edge with 18.4 seconds remaining.
With about 12 seconds left Brainerd's Danielle Uphoff missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it. Teammate Kayla Huether, who scored a team-high 19 points, tallied on a putback for a 58-57 deficit.
Brainerd then had to foul. Jengeih Tamba made two free throws for a 60-57 Park Center lead with 2.2 seconds to play. Jamie Zelinsky, who scored a game-high 22 points, stole the inbounds pass and made a layup at the buzzer.
"A characteristic of our team is we don't quit," Hendrickson said. "We have some young kids that like to play, they play hard and they don't quit.
"We've been in every game but one (22-point loss to Fergus Falls). We just can't seem to get that big bucket at a time when we need a big bucket or when we need a turnover or get a turnover we don't do anything with it. We haven't been able to capitalize at crunch time."
Karlye Barron had a productive first half in the paint for Brainerd, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. She finished with 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting and a game-high 14 rebounds.
The Warriors' defense in the first half forced Park Center to shoot just 17 percent (5 of 29) from the field. Zelinsky kept the Pirates close with 12 first-half points, sinking 6 of 9 free throws in the half, 10 of 14 in the game.
"We probably had the wrong matchup on (Jamie Zelinsky) most of the game," Hendrickson said. "We put Megan Bates on her and Megan did a much better job of at least controlling her other than when we had to foul. (Zelinsky's) not the one you want to foul."
Park Center 23 39 - 62
Brainerd 27 30 - 57
Jengeih Tamba 8, Jamie Zelinsky 22, Briana Blackhawk 6, Jill Zelinsky 12, Megan Schlauderaff 4, Holly Bistodeau 2, Tiffany Brandt 8. FG 18-52 (35 percent), FT 22-29 (76 percent). Three-point baskets: 4-16 (Blackhawk 2, J. Zelinsky 2).
Danielle Uphoff 5, Kayla Huether 19, Megan Bates 9, Joetta Johnson 4, Karlye Barron 11, Stephanie Neugebauer 6, Stacy Butler 1, Britta Parsons 2. FG 20-73 (27 percent), FT 15-19 (79 percent). Three-point baskets: 2-22 (Uphoff, Huether). Rebounds: 34 (Barron 14). Assists: 8 (Huether 4). Steals: 9 (Huether 3, Bates 3).
MIKE BIALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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