Raiders closing in on share of MRC title

Sami Jo Brinkmann tosses a pass over a Watertown-Mayer defender during Central’s 62-37 win over Watertown-Mayer on Feb. 7. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)

Sami Jo Brinkmann tosses a pass over a Watertown-Mayer defender during Central’s 62-37 win over Watertown-Mayer on Feb. 7. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)

With a 62-37 home win over Watertown-Mayer last Thursday, Feb. 7, the Central girls’ basketball team extended its winning streak to five games and kept pace with Jordan atop the Minnesota River Conference standings.

The Raiders are now 18-4 overall on the season, and with an 11-1 mark in the MRC were tied for the league lead with just two conference games remaining this week. The final MRC league game of the year is this Friday, Feb. 15 at home against Sibley East.

Against Watertown-Mayer, the Raiders jumped out to a 10-0 lead using a full court press to fluster the Royals and create turnovers. After that start, however, the Royals began to climb back into the game as the Raiders started missing shots and rushing shots and passes on offense.

“We had a nice run, but they’re a young team and once they got back in the game they were very scrappy and really worked hard. That kind of gave us fits offensively,” said Raiders head coach Gary Lembcke. “Overall I thought we played defense well the first half, but I think we had some letdowns where we started worrying about the shots that we missed instead of focusing on playing defense, and that allowed them to score.”

As the final seconds ticked down on the first half Central held a 24-20 lead, but Kaylie Brazil rushed across center court and launched a shot from well beyond the three-point line that passed through the hoop as the buzzer sounded to give the Raiders momentum going into the locker room.

The second half was dominated by the Raiders, who outscored Watertown-Mayer 35-17 to run away with the game.

“The second half, I thought our defense really keyed us,” said Lembcke. “We got some steals and some easy baskets that way. We were able to get that gap time where we made a run of some uncontested baskets, so we really extended that lead.”

Brazil led the Raiders with 20 points, and also grabbed five rebounds, five assists and seven steals.

Brooke Willemsen scored 11 points and had a team-high 12 rebounds with six assists. Sami Jo Brinkmann added 10 points, and Natalie Stockman and Nicole Miller each scored eight points.

With the regular season coming to an end on Feb. 19, Lembcke said the keys for the postseason will be defense and rebounding.

“I like where we’re at. The thing that pleases me the most is I feel like our defense is starting to pick up. When we do struggle at times offensively, we’re holding teams down also,” he said. “Defense and rebounding are really the keys for us as we move on because those are things that we can control. At times it seems like there’s a lid on that basket, but if you can stop opposing teams and limit them to one shot, you’ll be fine. We do generally take care of the basketball pretty well.”

Contact Paul Downer at paul.downer@ecm-inc.com

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