When the Cass Lake-Bena and Red Lake boys basketball teams staged their rematch Friday in Cass Lake the players and coaches were greeted by a gym filled to capacity with people spilling into the entrance, half of them cheering for the home team and the other half supporting the visitors.
Based on last month's 75-72 Red Lake victory on its home court and the talent on both squads, the fans expected another down-to-the-wire battle. And that is exactly what the teams delivered.
"I think we need to market this game as an instant classic," said CL-B coach Dan Ninham after his players rallied for a 76-72 victory, a win which extended Cass Lake-Bena's home winning streak to 44 games. "We were down most of the game but it came down to believing you can do it."
The Warriors took advantage of their opportunities in the first half and, behind a trio of 3-point baskets by Matt Morrison, forged a 32-19 lead with 7:15 to play in the opening session. Red Lake maintained an advantage the remainder of the half and continued to hold a double-figure lead well into the second stanza.
But the Panthers, who had difficulty finding their shooting touch against a stubborn and persistent Warrior defense, finally caught fire both offensively and defensively.
A sticky zone defense wore down the Warriors and forced turnovers on seven consecutive Red Lake possessions. That pressure enabled Cass Lake-Bena to transform a 60-45 deficit into 62-60 lead with six minutes to play.
"I expected a back and forth game," said Red Lake coach Roger White. "I think the difference was that some of our guys never played against Cass Lake-Bena and we didn't know how to keep the lead. Cass Lake-Bena is a great team with a proven history, especially in this place. And their experience made a difference."
CL-B's dramatic run began with Ben Cameron's bucket from the side. Caleb Fisher followed with a basket off an in-bounds pass and, following a Red Lake turnover, Martin Wind raced the length of the court and scored on a fast break. Tyler Trosen brought the home team within 60-53 with an inside power move and Wind delivered a killing blow when he drained a 3-pointer from 25 feet.
The comeback continued with Trosen's fast-break hoop, Fisher's inside bucket and Tristan Cloud's underhand flip from the lane.
Red Lake used 3-pointers from Sam Kingbird and Tim Lajuenesse to forge a 68-67 lead with 2:50 to play but the Panthers answered with Trosen's bucket and Cloud's drive to regain control. A pair of free throws by Wind and another by Cameron with four seconds to play iced CL-B's ninth victory in 10 outings.
"This game will make us a better team," White said. "Our inexperience hurt us but we will learn from this."
Sam Kingbird took scoring honors for Red Lake (8-3) with 26 points. Matt Morrision added 16 and Kevin Cook, Jr. finished with 10.
Cameron paced the Panthers with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Wind had 18 points, Cloud 12 and Trosen 10. Nolan Goss grabbed 11 boards. Wind's next opportunity to become Cass Lake-Bena's all-time scoring leader will be Monday when the Panthers visit Deer River. He needs 15 to tie Amanda Gehrke who finished her career with 2,198 points.
CL-B 76, Red Lake 72
Red Lake: M.Kingbird 0, 0-0, 3, 0; Dow 2, 1-3, 2, 6; Lajuenesse 1, 1-2, 2, 4; Morrison 5, 3-33, 0, 16; Kook 3, 2-2, 5, 10; Holthusen 1, 0-0, 0, 2; Harris 4, 0-0, 5, 8; S.Kingbird 9, 4-9, 4, 26. Totals: 25, 11-19, 21, 72. 3-point FG: 11.
CL-B: M.Wind 4, 9-12, 3, 18; T.Cloud 6, 0-0, 1, 12; Trosen 4, 2-2, 2, 10; Hanson 0, 0-0, 0, 0; Fisher 2, 0-0, 2, 4; Cameron 10-, 3-7, 3, 23; C.Wind 1, 0-0, 1, 2; Goss 2, 3-6, 1, 7; D.Cloud 0, 0-0, 0, 0. Totals: 29, 17-27, 13, 76. 3-point FG: 1.
Halftime: Red Lake 41, CL-B 31.