THIEF RIVER FALLS -- There were some in Section 8A who thought the Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball team would be weaker this season without graduated brothers Nate and Joel Salscheider.
But thanks to a new trio, the Panthers have not lost a step and are back in the Section 8A championship game.
No. 2 seed Cass Lake-Bena defeated No. 1 seed Red Lake 86-68 in the east subsection title game at Ralph Engelstad Arena behind 65 combined points from Martin Wind, Nate Howard and Jeromy O'Brien.
"Those three work together really well," Cass Lake-Bena head coach Dan Ninham said, who also felt all five of his starters played exceptional. "Jeromy has been our most improved player this season and is really emerging as a go-to guy. Martin has been fighting through an injury and Nate is fighting through a cold right now."
The Panthers will face west subsection champion Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (21-6) in the Section 8A championship.
No. 1 seed WAO defeated No. 2 seed Stephen-Argyle 64-63 Tuesday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Friday night's Section 8A championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. The winner advances to the state tournament.
Cass Lake-Bena (23-6) is the two-time defending section champion.
Wind, a junior who is battling through an ankle sprain, was the star of the game with 32 points and nine assists.
Howard, a senior, finished with 14 points and three 3-pointers. O'Brien, a junior, finished with 18 points and four 3-pointers.
Howard and O'Brien combined for seven of Cass Lake-Bena's eight 3-pointers in the win.
Rob Pemberton and TIm Lajeunesse were the top players for Red Lake. Pemberton had 23 points and Lajeunesse added 20. Tridell Beaulieu chipped in 16 points for the Warriors.
While the score was close throughout most of the game, the Panthers only lost the lead twice -- a 4-0 Red Lake advantage early and a 24-23 Warrior advantage with eight minutes left in the first half.
"I thought the one thing we did really good today was handle Red Lake's pressure defense," Ninham said. "We were able to get past their first line and then get the ball to the outside or get the easy layup. We also did a good job of managing time and using the clock to our advantage."
That 24-23 Red Lake lead did not last long as the Panthers went on a 13-0 run and extended it into a 19-4 run to end the first half.
That 13-0 run began with two field goals from Wind followed by three straight 3-pointers from Howard, O'Brien and Wind.
Cass Lake-Bena led 42-28 at halftime.
Red Lake head coach Roger White felt that the game was lost for the Warriors on the glass.
"Rebounding," he said. "I don't think we did a good job on the defensive boards and we gave them too many second chances. That's what hurt us tonight. But I'm proud of what these kids were able to do this season. They were able to come together and we didn't get this far into the postseason with just one player. We did it as a team."
Red Lake did not allow Cass Lake-Bena to run away with the game in the second half and cut the Panthers lead back down to single digits by playing strong in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Panthers also ran into foul trouble. Howard played the final 10 minutes of the game with four fouls and Ben Cameron played most of the second half with four fouls. Neither would foul out of the game, though.
With 10:52 left in the second half, the Warriors trailed 58-52. The six-point deficit was as close as Red Lake would get the rest of the way.
Cass Lake-Bena led 65-58 with 5:13 remaining and extended the lead to 74-62 with 3:30 left.
Each team made 28 field goals, but one of the big differences came down to 3-point shooting. The Panthers had eight 3-pointers and the Warriors had just one 3-pointer.
Red Lake finished the season with a 20-6 overall record.
CASS LAKE-BENA (86) - Wind 32, O'Brien 14, Howard 18, Cameron 9, Trosen 10, Goss 3.
RED LAKE (68) - Pemberton 23, Lajeunesse 20, Beaulieu 16, Cook 5, Kingbird 2, Dow 2.