2/7/2013 11:16:00 AM Furious second half rally gives Vikes another W Down 18 at one point, North Branch battled back to beat St. Francis 52-48
By JEFF NORTON
When North Branch and St. Francis tussled earlier this year in girls basketball, a lot was on the line. Vikings coach Dan Schindler was going for his 400th win and both teams were trying to establish themselves early as North Suburban Conference contenders.
The Vikings won that match up 66-56 by pounding the Saints down low with Sarah Lekson and Annette Olson and getting to the free throw line. This game went in a completely opposite direction for North Branch, as Lekson was out with an injury and they didn’t quite hit the charity stripe as hard. But, they still ended up at the same destination -- with a win. Early on, it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
North Branch went up 4-0 to open the game, but the Saints promptly went on a 25-3 run to pull ahead 25-7 and leave the Vikings reeling. “It wasn’t that we were playing terrible, we just could not make a shot,” Head Coach Dan Schindler said of the early run by St. Francis. “We missed many easy shots and St. Francis was bombing away, making five three pointers.”
It also didn’t help that North Branch found themselves in some foul trouble, and that is usually the other way around. In these two teams’ first match up this year, North Branch shot an astounding 38 free throws. The Vikings were able to settle down a bit and they went on an 11-4 run to end the half and get to within 31-18 at the buzzer.
“At halftime, we talked about just chipping away at the lead and playing good defense to see if we could get back in the game,” Schindler explained. That’s exactly what followed. North Branch didn’t make any big, dramatic runs, but they just slowly whittled the lead down to single digits, and then began to move closer to St. Francis. With just under three minutes left in the game, Haley Huset gave the girls their first lead since the 4-0 mark with two free throws, making the score 46-45 in favor of NB.
St. Francis answered right back with two free throws of their own to go up 47-46 The Vikings took the lead for good on the next trip down the court and again, it was from the free throw line. Senior Jessica Merchant stepped to the line and sunk both free throws, giving the Vikings a 48-47 lead. Huset then hit some big free throws, and North Branch finished the comeback off with a 52-48 victory. “It was a great comeback win for us. I give the girls a lot of credit as they kept working and never gave up,” Schindler said. “It was a great team win as everyone contributed.” Schindler praised nearly his whole roster for their toughness and determination in the comeback. From typical leaders Huset and Merchant and Courtney Selbitschka to defensive and gritty role players in Morgen Coleman, Mikayla Carlson and Olson, everyone pitched in for the victory. Huset led the team with 15 points and Selbitschka had 10. Olson added 11 rebounds.
North Branch 61, St. Croix Prep 22 Earlier in the week, the Vikings breezed past St. Croix Prep, winning by nearly 40 points against the overmatched charter school. “Our press worked great against them and we were able to get some easy baskets,” Schindler said. “We had good energy and it was a game we were able to use many combinations in.” North Branch was up 34-8 at halftime and was never threatened much in the contest.
Huset led the Vikings with 17 points while Selbitschka had 13. Eight other Vikings registered at least a point in the scorebook. North Branch moved to 15-4 on the year with the two wins, and 7-4 in the North Suburban Conference. They have a monumental rematch with Chisago Lakes Friday, Feb. 8 at home. The Wildcats ruined North Branch’s 9-0 start to the season earlier this year in Chisago, and North Branch will be looking for payback as they host this game.
As of press time, only a half game separates the two in the conference standings. Chisago Lakes sits at 7-3 and had a game against Irondale earlier this week. North Branch took on Totino-Grace earlier this week and is 7-4 in the NSC. The county rivalry will take place at 5:45 on Friday and will open the Chisago Lakes/North Branch double header at NBHS as the boys game follows at 7:30.