LITTLE FALLS -- Other than a quick spurt from Little Falls early in the half, Willmar dominated the second half to pull away with a 60-38 win Thursday in a matchup between the top two girls basketball teams in the Central Lakes Conference.
The Cardinals, No. 9 in the Class AAA Minnesota Basketball News poll, extended their winning streak in the CLC to 12. With just three games remaining on their CLC schedule, the Cardinals are on track to claim at least a share of the conference title for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
"The win tonight was a huge one for the kids in the CLC title race," said Willmar coach Brad Atchison. "It gives us a little breathing room. We don't have (the title) sewn up yet, but it's nice to be up two games with three left."
The Cardinals, who are at St. Cloud Apollo on Tuesday, edged Little Falls 53-52 on Jan. 6 in Willmar.
Alex Lippert again led Willmar in scoring with 19 points. The junior post has reached double figures in five of the Cardinals' last six games.
"Alex played very well on both ends of the court," said Atchison. "We were able to break the trap and make some great high-low passes to Alex and she was able to catch and convert those down stretch. "
Hannah Smith followed with 17 points and Jena Thompson netted 10 more for Willmar.
Little Falls (11-3, 15-6) was in front for the first part of the opening half before Willmar put together an 8-1 run to go up 19-15 with about six minutes left. The Cardinal lead stretched to nine, but Kaitlyn Emerson made a three-pointer at the buzzer to get Little Falls within six at 30-24.
Willmar then opened the second half with a 7-0 run, but the Flyers answered with a 10-0 run to get within three with 11:30 left in the game. They would get no closer as Willmar would hold Little Falls to just one field for the rest of the game. The Cardinals ended the game with a 15-1 run.
Willmar 60, Little Falls 38
Willmar (14-1, 18-3) 30 30 -- 60
Little Falls (11-3, 15-6) 24 14 -- 38
WILLMAR - 25-55 FG (1-6 3-pt); 9-15 FT; 31 rebounds; 21 fouls ... Scoring: Mariel Aamot 6, Kelsey Evans 6, Alex Lippert 19, Hannah Smith 17, Jena Thompson 10, Kayli Gimse 2 ... 3-point shots: Smith 1 ... Rebound leaders: Thompson 7, Lippert 6 ... Assist leaders: Thompson 7, Evans 6 ... Steal leaders: Evans 2, Hannah Murphy 2 ... Blocks: Lippert 5
LITTLE FALLS - 12 FG (3 3-pt); 11-24 FT; rebounds not available; 15 fouls ... Scoring: Sammi Koester 1, Danel Okerman 3, Paige Veseman 5, Megan Voss 5, Kaitlyn Emerson 3, Trisha Wippler 3, Whitney Weisz 5, Carlee Davich 8, Katie Hochsprung 5 ... 3-point shots: Voss 1, Emerson 1, Davich 1 ... Rebound leaders: n/a ... Assist leaders: n/a ... Steal leaders: n/a