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

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)1 / 2
Willmar's Taylor Filipek, left, goes up for two of his team-high 19 points over Carter Fennell of Benson. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)2 / 2

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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