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Benson's Sam Peterson (32) has his shot blocked by Brian Reeves, right, of Willmar in the first half Saturday in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

Willmar holds off Benson; will battle NLS in Bremer Bank final for 7th straight time

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Willmar holds off Benson; will battle NLS in Bremer Bank final for 7th straight time
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- For the seventh December in a row, the Willmar Cardinals and the New London-Spicer Wildcats will tangle for county honors at the boys basketball holiday tournament.


Willmar topped a tenacious Benson team 66-57 in Saturday's late game of the Bremer Bank Holiday Classic.

NLS is now 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class AA. Willmar is 6-0 and No. 4 in AAA. Each team has won three times in the recent six-year stretch.

Willmar coach Steve Grove casts the Wildcats as the favorite for tonight's game.

"They are athletic and experienced; most of them were a big part of the team that played here last year," said Grove. "I'd definitely give them the edge."

Willmar won 70-65 a year ago. While there's little advantage in inside height, the Wildcats' forwards have the sturdy build of a championship football team.

Benson shot to a 5-0 lead on consecutive baskets by Brennan Kent, who soon left with a turned ankle and would not return. Willmar then bolted in front 14-5 and would lead 35-20 at the break.

The Cardinals added an 8-0 run out of the locker room and built the margin to 46-24. Grove sent in four substitutes and the offense went slack while Benson mounted a 12-0 run.

But the Braves were unable to get any closer than eight points the rest of the way.

"That's a good team," said Benson center Sam Peterson, who led all scorers with 21 points, 15 of them coming in the second half. "We won the second half. We fought. That's a good game for us."

Four players reached double figures for Willmar. Taylor Filipek bagged 19 points, followed by guard Andrew Bangen with a season-high 14 points, Sam Esboldt with 13 and Brian Reeves with 12.

"Reeves is more athletic than I thought," commented Benson coach Roger Lindahl. "We doubled down on Filipek and cheated on Reeves whenever he got a touch. You've got to stop those two. It was a good-help defense."

Willmar 66, Benson 57

Benson(2-3) 20 37 -- 57

Willmar (6-0) 35 31 -- 66

BENSON - 24-57 FG (4-12 3-pt); 5-7 FT; 28 rebounds; 19 fouls ... Scoring: Cody Jaeger 9, Jed Eix 2, Jeff Berens 4, Brennan Kent 5, Carter Fennell 5, Derek Hilleren 3, Sam Peterson 21, Keagan Pangrac ... 3-point shots: Jaeger, Kent, Fennell, Peterson ... Rebound leaders: Peterson 5, Hilleren 6, Pangrac 6 ... Assist leaders: Fennell 9 ... Steal leaders: Hanson 3, Jaeger 2

WILLMAR - 24-48 FG (4-12 3-pt); 14-22 FT; 22 rebounds; 10 fouls ... Scoring: Mark Dunham 2, Jimmy Unger 2, Andrew Bangen 14, Brian Reeves 12, Sam Esboldt 13, Taylor Filipek 19, Jake Damhof 4 ... 3-point shots: Bangen 2, Esboldt 2 ... Rebound leader: Filipek 9 ... Assist leaders: Filipek 3 ... Steal leaders: Esboldt 4, Filipek 3 ... Blocked shots: Filipek 5

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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