THIEF RIVER FALLS--Cass Lake-Bena guard Martin Wind doesn't know any other way to finish a high school boys basketball season.
That's because the Panthers are going to the Minnesota state Class A tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
Wind, a four-year starter, had 21 points and teammate Ben Cameron finished with a game-high 26 points as Cass Lake-Bena held off pesky underdog Northern Freeze 74-68 in the Section 8A championship game at Ralph Engelstad Arena Friday night.
Cass Lake-Bena, who improved to 23-4, will play Minnesota Transitions Charter in the first round of the state tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Wind said there's one difference in this year's state-bound Panthers as compared to past groups - and that's because of Cameron.
"The last three years, it has been all our guards," Wind said. "This year, we have big guys."
Notably Cameron, who Northern Freeze coach Jake Rantanen claimed had "the game of his life."
Cameron, who scored 15 points in the second half, was vital as the Panthers built double-digit leads midway through the second half.
Cameron's bucket in the post after Wind knocked down a deep 3-pointer gave Cass Lake-Bena its largest lead of the game - 61-45 with 9:42 left.
But Northern Freeze, who finished the year 19-10, wouldn't go away.
The Freeze whittled the lead down to three points with 94 seconds remaining. Jesse Nelson and Jared Spilde drilled 3-pointers during a quick 7-0 spurt that made it 68-65.
But the Panthers were accurate from the free-throw line the rest of the way, while the Freeze went cold from the field.
Cass Lake-Bena's Tyler Trosen, who finished with 15 points, hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:13 to snuff out the Freeze comeback.
"That has been the story of our team all year," Rantanen said of his team's resilience. "We never gave up. If our kids didn't have heart, we would never have done that. I'm very proud of our effort."
The Freeze were paced by Ben Tureson's 19 points. Nelson finished with 16. But the Freeze were plagued by poor free-throw shooting, going 6-for-16 from the foul line.
The Panthers, on the other hand, were 18-for-24 from the free-throw line.
Cass Lake-Bena also excelled at taking it right at the strength of the Northern Freeze - 6-foot-8 center Tony Sang and 6-foot-4 Tureson.
"(Cameron) really used his body well," Rantanen said. "He went right inside and was able to free himself. He had a monster game inside. It was a pretty special effort to attack our strength."
However, the Freeze gave the Panthers a much tougher challenge than some expected.
"We thought that they were going to lay down, but they never did," Wind said.
Wind was also complementary of Cameron.
"He stepped up big," Wind said. "That's the best I've seen him play."
In the first half, the Freeze stuck with Cass Lake-Bena until the Panthers went on a late 10-3 run over the final four-and-a-half minutes to push a 26-23 lead into a 36-26 halftime advantage. Tommy Huesers started the spurt with a 3-pointer from the right wing, while Nolan Goss put back an offensive rebound and Wind scored twice--on an acrobatic scoop shot in the lane and a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The Freeze had one lead against Cass Lake-Bena - 11-10 early in the first half - yet the Panthers were never comfortable.
"That was definitely an exciting game for the fans," Cass Lake-Bena coach Dan Ninham said. "I thought Ben had an outstanding game. He's an all-state level player. Also, hats off to Northern Freeze. I knew it was going to be a battle no matter what."
CASS LAKE-BENA 74,
NORTHERN FREEZE 68
Cass Lake-Bena 36 38 -- 74
Northern Freeze 26 42 -- 68
Cass Lake-Bena - Chad Wittner 3, Martin Wind 21, Tyler Trosen 15, Caleb Fisher 1, Ben Cameron 26, Tommy Huesers 6, Nolan Goss 2
Northern Freeze - Daltyn Englund 2, Jaren Spilde 8, Jesse Nelson 16, Kameren Johnson 5, Ben Tureson 19, Dillon Dahl 4, Brady Reierson 6, Tony Sang 8