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BOYS BASKETBALL: Cass Lake-Bena routs C-G 89-42 in playoff opener

Cass Lake-Bena senior Arnold Kingbird (22) scores in the first half of the Section 8A East quarterfinal game against Clearbrook-Gonvick Thursday at Cass Lake-Bena High School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Cass Lake-Bena senior Noah DeLapaz (3) makes a 3-pointer in Thursday's Section 8A East quarterfinal game against Clearbrook-Gonvick at Cass Lake-Bena High School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Cass Lake-Bena junior Ethan Brown (5) makes a drive in Thursday's Section 8A East quarterfinal game against Clearbrook-Gonvick at Cass Lake-Bena High School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

CASS LAKE -- Even when the Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball team saw its 25-point lead slim back down to single digits, the Panthers didn’t sweat it.

“Coming into this game, we were planning on just pushing the ball every chance we could,” CL-B senior guard Arnold Kingbird said. “Just running and gunning. (Fatigue) started to hit (Clearbrook-Gonvick) right at the beginning of the second half. We just kept on. I think they got tired, and we just kept on going. That’s why it made the difference.”

The top-seeded Panthers used defensive takeaways to fuel a relentless second half, starting their Section 8A playoff run on the right foot by dismantling No. 8 C-G 89-42 in Cass Lake on Thursday.

Cass Lake-Bena (26-1) was dominant at the start, picking off passes left and right to fuel a double-digit lead, 16-4, six minutes in. Noah DeLapaz finished an 8-0 run with a layup off another steal, making for the 12-point advantage in the early going.

It stretched to a 25-point game at 34-9 when Coltin Mitchell made the extra pass and found Kingbird for a lay in. But the Bears (9-19) chipped away, starting with an ensuing 7-0 run.

C-G outscored the Panthers 22-7 in the final seven minutes of the first half, keeping within striking distance at 41-30 after bringing a 9-0 spurt into the break. Ben Engebretson added another 3-pointer into the mix with the second half’s opening score, shooting the Bears into single-digit deficit at 41-33.

The game wasn’t close for much longer.

CL-B restored order by scoring the next 16 points. The run opened on a Sam Johnson mid-range jumper, was highlighted by a no-look, one-handed dime from DeLapaz to Kingbird for an easy layup, and finished on another Kingbird layup that came from another Clearbrook-Gonvick turnover.

“The second half, what happened when we came back out, we felt that they were going to get tired,” Cass Lake-Bena head coach John Wind said. “We started pushing the ball up, and we played better defense. We were tipping the ball in our 1-2-2 press, and we just started running, trying to push it faster, and it seemed like their foot speed got slower. I think that’s what we planned.”

C-G’s Erick Bergman and Hunter Ehlers combined for the next five points, Ehlers’ score coming on an and-one bucket with 13 minutes, 15 seconds remaining. But the Bears then went without a field goal for the next 12:45, opening the door for CL-B.

With the Panthers already back in control, a 28-0 spurt was the exclamation point in taking over. Clearbrook-Gonvick finally returned to the scoreboard after a nine-minute drought, but the score had moved from 57-38 to 85-38 in the meantime.

“It’s really fun to see when we go on big runs and the crowd gets into it,” Kingbird said. “It’s really rewarding when all of us -- the bench, the crowd, the players on the court -- cheer every time someone makes it. It’s an amazing feeling.”

With 30 seconds to play, Quincy Hammer sunk a short runner for just the Bears’ fourth field goal of the half, and their first since the 13:15 mark. It added up to a 48-12 second-half score in favor of the Panthers, equalling the 89-42 final.

Kingbird’s 28 points led all scorers, while another 25 from DeLapaz and 15 from Jarell Jacobs aided the Cass Lake-Bena cause. Engebretson finished with 14 to pace Clearbrook-Gonvick.

“When we do something -- (whether) we run plays or push the ball up -- the boys will stick to it and just keep going back to the same thing until the other team adjusts and counters whatever we’re doing,” Wind said. “In that sense, I think the kids have grown to understand that, and we don’t change anything.”

The Panthers now advance to play Red Lake at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls, with a spot in the subsection finals on the line.

No. 1 Cass Lake-Bena 89, No. 8 Clearbrook-Gonvick 42

CG 30 12 -- 42

CLB 41 48 -- 89

Clearbrook-Gonvick scorers: Engebretson 14, Hamnes 8, Dorman 6, Ehlers 6, Bergman 3, Nelson 3, Hammer 2.

Cass Lake-Bena scorers: Kingbird 28, DeLapaz 25, Jacobs 15, Lawrence 6, Washington 4, Brown 3, Reyes 3, Smith 3, Fowler 2.

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Echo Press in Alexandria. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Alexandria area sports updates and jokes he thinks are funny.

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