The North Branch boys basketball team almost made the unthinkable a reality on Friday, Jan. 11. Although this isn’t the typical star studded Benilde-St. Margaret’s team that so many people have gotten used to since North Branch moved to the North Suburban Conference, the Vikings gave the Red Knights all they could handle before falling in three overtimes to the basketball powerhouse from St. Louis Park. In the team’s previous 10 meetings since they started running into each other in the NSC, Benilde has gone 10-0 and beaten the Vikings by an average of 24 points per game, including a 61 point shellacking last year. So this kind of competitiveness was foreign to the Vikings. “It was just a great high school basketball game,” Head Coach David Anderson said. “Both teams played their tails off the entire game including all three overtimes and it was a shame that either team had to lose.” The first half couldn’t have gone more smooth for the Vikings.
They were getting big scoring contributions from their star Travis VanElsberg, as well as plenty of the gritty and fundamental plays that Brandon Thauwald, Jon Blomquist and Cody Knobbe have become accustomed to making. Going into the break, the Vikings had a 33-28 lead over BSM. In the second half, VanElsberg continued to be the offensive force while others were making key shots. “Brandon Thauwald played huge for us in the paint,” Anderson explained. “Jon Blomquist continued to hit big shots for us and has really become and emotional leader. Cody Knobbe played a great game until he also fouled out in the second half.” Unfortunately, as the time began to wind down and Benilde drew the game closer, North Branch started losing players to fouls, which does not bode well for a game that goes multiple overtimes. First Thauwald fouled out in regulation, ending his night with 10 points, and soon after, Knobbe joined him on the bench after fouling out with eight points.
But, North Branch trucked on. “We had tremendous performances from every single player who stepped on the floor for us,” Anderson said. “Our bench gave us huge minutes and really came up big for us down the stretch when we had three of our top players out of the game. Isaac Lewis, Aaron Biederman, Dillon Harms, Brandon Steffensen, Matt Blomquist, and Riley Jacobson all came in off the bench and played big minutes when we needed them.” After tying at 58 once the buzzer sounded, the Vikes and Red Knights matched each other with five points in the first overtime and then equaled each other with seven points in the second overtime. The fatigue was starting to set in and VanElsberg was having a tough time as a one-man scoring machine. In the third overtime, Benilde finally staved off the Vikings with a 6-4 period to win the game 77-75. VanElsberg ended with a game-high 36 points. Nobody else had over 18 on the game. “We are very proud of our players and very happy that our fans got to see such a great game,” Anderson said after the exhausting match up. “Travis VanElsberg gave another great performance, shouldering a ton of the load for us.”
Blomquist had 14 points for NB and Thauwald chipped in 10. Knobbe had eight points in the losing effort. “Give Benilde a lot of credit, they fought hard the whole way and never gave up. Despite being behind almost the entire game and for most of the first and second overtimes they continued to find ways to hang around and stay in the game long enough to find a way to win,” Anderson said. “That's a testament to their character and effort. Our guys fought even harder and I couldn't be more proud of how far they have come this year. “It would have been really great to come out of tonight with the victory, but even though we lost it still shouldn't take anything away from the incredible effort they gave tonight.” The loss dropped North Branch to 2-9 on the season and 1-3 in the NSC. They took on Irondale, who is 4-8, earlier this week and then travel to eighth-ranked (AAA) Columbia Heights on Friday, Jan. 18 for a 7:15 tilt. The Vikes are next at home when they host St. Louis Park on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7:15.