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Willmar earns share of CLC title

ST. CLOUD -- By winning its 13th straight Central Lakes Conference game, Willmar clinched at least a share of the CLC girls basketball title Tuesday by beating St. Cloud Apollo 61-53.

It is the first CLC title for Willmar since it shared it with Alexandria in the 2003-04 season. They last clinched outright in the 2002-03 campaign.

The Cardinals improved to 15-1 in the CLC and have only conference rivals Rocori at home on Friday and Fergus Falls on the road on Feb. 26 on their regular-season schedule. A win Friday would clinch the title outright for Willmar.

Kelsey Evans paced the Cardinals with 22 points and Hannah Smith netted 13 more.

The Cardinals closed out the first half by going on a 17-2 run to take a 28-18 lead at halftime. Their lead would expand to 15 early in the second half before St. Cloud Apollo (7-9, 14-10) got as close a four, but the Cardinals fended off the Eagles' upset bid.

"We put together just a great run of basketball there," said Willmar coach Brad Atchison of the late first-half surge. "It was five or six minutes of great basketball.

"It was our best half defensively on the year, holding them to 18 points. We talked to the girls at halftime and told them that Apollo has a lot of firepower, and (Apollo) got back in it, but the kids played with a lot of poise down the stretch."

After scoring 28 points in the first meeting, which Willmar won 70-68 on Jan. 9 in Willmar on Alex Lippert's last-second shot, Alison Gray scored 13 points Tuesday for the Eagles while being guarded by Evans. Courtney Lynch paced Apollo with 23 points.

Willmar 61, SC Apollo 53

Willmar (15-1, 19-3) 28 33 -- 61

SC Apollo (7-9, 14-10) 18 35 -- 53

WILLMAR - 20-38 FG (5-12 3-pt); 16-31 FT; 24 rebounds; 12 fouls ... Scoring: Kelsey Evans 22, Mariel Aamot 8, Lesley Christianson 5, Hannah Smith 13, Alex Lippert 7, Jena Thompson 6 ... 3-point shots: Evans 2, Smith 2, Christianson 1 ... Rebound leaders: Thompson 11 ... Assist leaders: Evans 3, Emily Nelsen 3 ... Steal leaders: Smith 5, Thompson 5 ... Blocks: Evans 3

ST. CLOUD APOLLO - 22 FG (5 3-pt); 4-5 FT; rebounds not available; 22 fouls ... Scoring: Moriah Novacinski 2, Alison Gray 13, Hailey Dunsmoor 4, Courtney Lynch 23, Andezu Orionzi 6, Sara Pfannenstein 5 ... 3-point shots: Lynch 4, Gray 1 ... Rebound, assist and steal leaders not available