Raiders tighten grip on second place

Sami Jo Brinkmann puts up a shot against Holy Family. (Times staff photos by Paul Downer)
Sami Jo Brinkmann puts up a shot against Holy Family. (Times staff photos by Paul Downer)

With a big Minnesota River Conference win over Mayer Lutheran, the Central girls’ basketball team solidified its grip on second place in the MRC last week.

The Raiders (8-1 in league play) edged out the third-place Crusaders (6-3) by a 56-42 score on Thursday, Jan. 24 to create some daylight between the top two teams in the conference and the rest of the pack, and still have a shot to catch Jordan, which is currently undefeated in the MRC at 9-0.

Central also split a pair of home non-conference games last week, falling 72-64 to Holy Family on Monday, Jan. 21 and defeating Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity 56-48 on Saturday, Jan. 26.

The Raiders carried a 15-4 overall record into this week’s action, which includes a showdown at Jordan (ranked No. 10 in Class 2A) this Friday, Feb. 1. The Jaguars handed the Raiders their only conference loss of the season earlier this year, a 58-48 loss.

Central 64, Holy Family 72
The week started off with a rare loss for the Raiders, who couldn’t catch up with Holy Family after falling behind early. Down by six points at halftime (35-29), the Raiders had a difficult time shutting down the Fire’s offense in order to rally in the second half.

“We never seemed to get the stops we needed to make a comeback,” said Raiders head coach Gary Lembcke. “We got lots of open shots during the game. It did seem that every time we got within reach to make a comeback Holy Family would make a run and score two to four baskets in a row and always kept that 10 to 14-point lead.”

Lexi Erpenbach had 23 points to lead the Raiders, and Kaylie Brazil added 20 points with four steals, four rebounds and four assists.

Sami Jo Brinkmann scored 10 points with eight rebounds and two blocked shots, and Brooke Willemsen also had eight rebounds to go along with three assists and four points.

Central 56, LHS 52
In a game with big implications for the league standings, the Raiders hosted Mayer Lutheran and managed to mask a cold shooting night with strong defense.

“I was very pleased with the way we played. We had a night where we did not shoot well but I felt we played well on defense,” said Lembcke.

After the teams played to a 24-24 tie in the first half, Brazil sparked a second half burst by sinking three three-point shots in a row.

“From that point on we did not let Mayer Lutheran take the lead the rest of the game,” said Lembcke.

While the game remained close and the Crusaders did manage to tie the score within the last two minutes, the Raiders didn’t panic.

“What pleased me the most about our defense was that we made the stops defensively so they could not take a lead, which we didn’t do in the Holy Family game,” said Lembcke.

Erpenbach was Central’s top scorer again, netting 21 points with four assists. Brazil finished the night with 14 points, two steals and three assists.

Morgan Karnes scored nine points with a team-high nine rebounds, and Brinkmann and Willemsen each grabbed seven rebounds. Brinkmann also blocked three shots.

Central 56, LP-HT 48
While shooting remained a problem, the Raiders played well in almost every other aspect of the game to pick up another win against Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity.

The Raiders connected on just 16 of 71 shot attempts (22 percent) from the field, but Brinkmann and Karnes combined for 18 first half points to help the Raiders keep pace with the Bulldogs.

“Our inside game kept us in the game,” said Lembcke.

The Raiders trailed 28-29 at halftime, but finally began clicking in the second half when they surged ahead and took an 18-point lead thanks to some long-range shooting by Erpenbach, who connected on three three-pointers, and aggressive inside play by Willemsen, who gathered in 12 offensive rebounds during the game and finished with 19 rebounds overall.

Strong defensive play also limited Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity to just 19 second-half points.

Erpenbach led the team with 19 points and five assists, and Willemsen scored 13 points along with her team-high in rebounds. Brinkmann finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, and Karnes scored eight points.

Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]