Riding a five-game winning streak, the Brainerd Warriors looked to make it one more but fell short against Central Lakes Conference rival and Class 3A’s 13th-ranked Alexandria Cardinals.
The Warriors hung tough most of the game, but a strong defensive performance by the Cardinals in the second half was enough for Alexandria to walk away with 56-52 win Thursday, Feb. 13, at Brainerd High School.
In the first half, Brainerd hit on all cylinders. The Warriors went 6-for-7 from 3-point range led by Erika Lane who went 4-for-4, and Brainerd enjoyed a 28-22 lead late in the first half.
“I sound like the broken record, but we were patient on offense and taking the good shot when it presents itself and I thought we did a good job of that in the first half,” Warriors head coach Troy Nelson said. “Every shot we took in the first half was a good, open shot and we are good shooters when they are open.”
Alexandria responded with a 7-0 run to take the lead 29-28 and headed into halftime with all the momentum.
“Brainerd came ready to play and they were ready to go,” Alexandria head coach Wendy Kohler said. “They played really well today. I think in the first half they shot 70% from the 3-point line and I just told our girls to keep playing and making plays because they are going to start missing some of those shots hopefully in the second half.”
In the second half, the Cardinals picked up the defensive intensity. They forced Brainerd into 17 turnovers and held them to six points midway through.
“We made some adjustments in the second half defensively,” Kohler said. “We started running them off the 3-point line and I thought that was key for us tonight. We just got up hard and got over more on the back side. We were zagging too much in the first half and letting them do whatever they wanted.”
A basket by Mataya Hoelscher gave Alexandria its largest lead of the game at 47-36. Brainerd cut the lead to six after some Lane free throws, but a 3-point basket by Jaya Hatlestad proved to be the dagger for the Cardinals as it put them up 50-41 with 2:40 remaining.
“In the second half, we just went through a couple of stretches where we could not put the ball in the bucket, and could not make the big shot to change the momentum,” Troy Nelson said. “That to me was the difference in the game. (Alexandria) got up on a couple of our 3-point shooters and took their space away and did a better job of defending our curls. It took us a while to counteract that during the game.”
Lane finished with a game-high 16 points, 14 of which came in the first half. Myah Nelson finished with 15 points and went 4-of-10 from behind the 3-point line. Olivia Tautges recorded another double-double for Brainerd finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Mia McGrane finished with a team-high 14 points to lead Alexandria. Ella Grove, who was the Cardinals’ leading scorer coming into the game, finished with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
“We talked about staying in front of them down in the post,” Troy Nelson said of his team’s defensive gameplan. “Playing behind and walling up and giving them one shot. We also wanted to make sure we did not give their best players open shots tonight and make someone else beat us. I thought we executed that gameplan well.”
Hatlestad scored nine points, all in the second half, and seven of them in the last three minutes to ice the game for Alexandria.
The loss snaps the Warriors’ win streak, but Troy Nelson still feels his team is playing excellent basketball as they approach the end of the regular season. The Warriors got blown out 57-32 the last time they played the Cardinals Jan. 2, at Alexandria High School.
“We are just playing so much better right now,” Troy Nelson said. “We are playing for each other now, and I think earlier in the season we were trying to learn how to play together. The last eight games now, I think, we have been playing for each other and you can see that. I was proud of our effort and we fought the whole way tonight.
“I told the girls before the game, ‘I just hope we come out and play well again.’ And it’s really hard to swallow because I wanted to win this one, but I thought we played well and are keeping our momentum.”
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Alexandria 29 27 -- 56
Brainerd 28 24 -- 52
Jaya Hatlestad 9, Mia McGrane 14, Ella Grove 13, Cate Bloom 1, Mataya Hoelscher 12, Alayna Strand 2, Lilly Horn 5. FG 21-51 (41%), FT 8-13 (62%). 3-point 6-15 (40%).
Kate Stadum 2, Myah Nelson 15, Ally Brzezinski 5, Olivia Tautges 13, Delaney Schaeffer 1, Erika Lane 16. FG 18-42 (42%), FT 7-10 (70%). 3-point 9-18 (50%).
Warriors 56, Alexandria 52
Key: Strong defense by Alexandria shut down the Warriors offense in the second half.
Conference: Brd 10-5, Alex 11-3.
Overall: Brd 12-11, Alex 18-7.
Next: hosts Chisago 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18.