Make it eight straight wins for Brainerd.
Looking to back up their 80-78 overtime victory over the Moorhead Spuds Feb. 9, the Warriors did just that with a 63-60 win Thursday, Feb. 18, to sweep the Section 8-4A foe.
“It’s a big deep breath,” Warriors head coach Charlie Schoeck said. “That’s a good team and we put in a lot of hours watching film and preparing especially when you play two times that close. A lot of work went in from coaches and players.”
Brainerd’s Max Lelwica blocked Trey Feeney with 6.1 seconds left to preserve the win.
“Feeney hit two shots earlier, and when he got the ball I could see it in his eyes,” Lelwica said. “I know he has a slower shot and I went straight up and got the block.”
The win gets Brainerd closer to hosting a Section 8-4A playoff game in March.
“We haven’t beaten Moorhead twice in a long time,” Lelwica said. “Usually we don’t beat them once and it’s big for us in our section. Not a lot of people thought we would be great this year, but we always believed in ourselves and it was a big win in hopefully getting a higher seed and a home game.”
Lelwica found himself with four fouls early in the second half, but made winning plays down the stretch.
“His attitude never wavers,” Schoeck said. “He just stays the course and makes winning plays. That last block was a winning play and that’s the play he needed to make for us to win the game.”
Moorhead’s Brady Walthall led all scorers with 24 points, including four 3-pointers.
“We knew they wanted to get it to Brady Walthall at the end of the game,” Lelwica said. “He was hitting tonight.”
Griffin Rushin led Brainerd with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“He’s something else,” Lelwica said. “I’m so blessed and grateful for it. We’ve all been good friends since day one and to see the player he’s become — he’s been overlooked for so long and this year he’s finally getting noticed. A lot of people don’t realize the little things he does too.”
John Pecarich came off the bench for Brainerd to score 13 points, including 11 second-half points and three 3s.
Brainerd had 17 bench points total.
“It’s a nice luxury to have,” Schoeck said of his bench. “A lot of time in high school basketball when teams start subbing there’s maybe a scoring punch that gets lost for both sides. So when you have guys you can bring off the bench and can heat up quick that’s nice to have.”
Pecarich’s three 3s paced Brainerd’s offense to a 50-46 lead, but after a Belind Alemadi layup for Moorhead the score was tied 56-56 with three minutes to play.
A Rushin hook shot and Logan Roberts layup gave the Warriors a mini 4-0 run and Roberts nailed a free throw with under a minute to go to make it 61-56.
After two live-ball turnovers in a row by Brainerd, Moorhead scored two easy breakaway layups to cut Brainerd’s lead to one with 32 seconds left.
Mitchell Degen scored a layup to give Brainerd a three-point lead which they held onto.
Degen added 15 points and led the Warriors with nine first-half points.
Cooper Jacobs dished out 10 assists for Brainerd.
Both teams struggled shooting to start. Moorhead scored the first basket 3 minutes and 32 seconds in. Brainerd’s first basket did not come until nearly five minutes in.
The Warriors defense sparked a 15-0 run which included seven straight points off turnovers. The run gave Brainerd a 26-15 lead which would be the largest of the game for either team.
“In that first half, shots were not really falling,” Schoeck said. “So it’s nice to have that defense to spark us and get us in transition. And that’s what you have to do to win ugly games like that.”
It was Roberts who was tasked with guarding Walthall — holding him to 24.
“Our plan was to deny him the ball and I thought Logen did a great job most of the night, but he made some shots where he didn’t have much space,” Schoeck said.
Moorhead answered Brainerd’s run with its own run that stretched both halves. Walthall nailed a 3-pointer at the end of the half to make it 26-22. Then the Spuds went on a 9-2 run to start the second half to make it a 16-2 total run.
“They have some good players, but their players are kind of individual so we just focus on shutting down their key players,” Lelwica said. “As a team, we were just helping each other out and we made some really good plays.”
Rushin scored the next seven for Brainerd, including a block on one end and a dunk on the other.
“He’s putting together a heck of a season,” Schoeck said. “Everyone has always known Griffin’s offensive game is one of the best in the state in my opinion, but his defense has caught up to him and that’s a credit to the hard work he’s done in the weight room.”
Brainerd plays Alexandria who is undefeated and ranked No. 13 in Class 3A Friday, Feb. 19. The Cardinals beat Brainerd in 68-58 Jan. 16 which was the last Warriors loss.
“It’s a short turnaround, and tomorrow’s a big one,” Schoeck said. “Alexandria is sitting above us in the conference and we are in second place, so in order to catch them we are going to need some help, but we need to get a win tomorrow and they are a quality team.”
Moorhead 22 38 — 60
Brainerd 26 37 — 63
Trey Feeney 12, Blake Walthall 2, Brady Walthall 24, Adam Jenkins 5, Belind Alemadi 8, Mekhi Elmore 2, David Lindell 5, Riley Swenson 2. FG 24-61 (39%), FT 5-10 (50%). 3-point 7-22 (32%).
John Pecarich 13, Mitchell Degen 15, Logen Roberts 8, Cooper Jacobs 2, Griffin Rushin 19, Nick Evanson 4, Max Lelwica 2. FG 28-59 (48%), FT 2-6 (33%). 3-point 5-24 (21%).
Warriors 63, Moorhead 60
Key: Defense gives Brainerd a sweep of Moorhead.
Overall: Brd 8-2, M 4-7.
Next: Brainerd hosts Alexandria 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19.
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.