HARRIS - It's been a long time coming for the Mid Peninsula Wolverines. Thursday evening in a dual Skyline/Central U.P. conference matchup, Mid Pen got a big monkey of its back, defeating Bark River-Harris 68-54. The victory was the first for Mid Pen at Bark River since Jan. 12, 1996.
"It feels really good," said Wolverines coach Mark Branstrom. "I loved the old gym here but this had been a place I didn't look forward to coming to. I will now."
The Wolverines played strong defense and took away a lot of what the Broncos were trying to do inside. They drew them them into 20 fouls and hit their free throws when they got to the line.
Paul Gerard photo
John Norman of Bark River-Harris goes up for a shot as Mid Peninsula’s Brett Branstrom (21) attempts to block during the dual?Skyline/Central U.P. conference game at Harris Thursday night.
Paul Gerard photo
Mid Peninsula’s Chad Branstrom shoots a layup Thursday night at Harris as Broncos’ Cody VanBrocklin (21), Austin?Strahl (31) and Matt Sundling (33) look on. Branstrom scored a game and career-high 27 points in the Wolverines’ 68-54 victory.
But perhaps most importantly, the Wolverines spread the ball around well, something that didn't happen often in losing efforts last season.
It wasn't solely the Brett Branstrom show. In fact, Chad Branstrom led both teams with a career-high 27 points, including five shots from beyond the arc. The effort was commendable given that the five players who started the game, didn't get much of a break.
"The whole team played extremely well tonight. We only play one player off the bench. Everybody, as far I'm concerned, did what I expected them to do," said coach Branstrom.
Mid Peninsula 14 22 17 15 - 68
BR-Harris 15 11 8 20 - 54
Mid Peninsula - Winkelbauer 9; Richmond 3; B. Branstorm 21, C. Branstrom 27; Lehtikangas 8; FT: 20-25; F: 15; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Winkelbauer, C. Branstrom 5.
Bark River-Harris - Welch 4, VanBrocklin 7, Conine 4, Strahl 6, Kleiman 13, Norman 20; FT: 8-16; F: 20; Fouled out: Welch; 3-point field goals: Welch, VanBrocklin.
The Broncos offense started out hot, particularly freshman Cody VanBrocklin who scored all seven of his points in the first quarter, helping his team to a 15-14 lead after eight minutes. He also had nine rebounds.
But the Wolverines eventually began to wear down the Broncos, forcing them to take low percentage shots or risk taking a foul.
By the third quarter, both Cody Welch and center John Norman had four fouls. Welch ended up fouling out midway through the fourth quarter while Norman kept it together.
Branstrom was largely the responsibility of Norman, who defended Mid Pen's center well for most of the game. Branstrom took more than a few ill advised shots due in large part to the pressure on him, yet still finished with 21 points. Norman led the Broncos with a career-high 20 points with 12 rebounds. Kyle Kleiman added 13 points with 10 boards.
"John is big in there and Branstrom got a little bit tired," observed BR-H coach Matt Richer. "We wore on him a little bit after three quarters. I told Norman, take it to his chest, make him defend you and don't bail him out by fouling away.
"I was kind of surprised that Branstrom had a couple airballs, he's such a good shooter. We just try to wear him down. He's so big, strong and athletic that when he gets down close, we don't have an answer. We went to a box-and-one on him to start with and that was somewhat effective until his cousin Chad started making shots. Then we had to go somewhere else defensively."
Branstrom was able to dominate the game in other ways. He had an astounding 26 rebounds and also had four blocks and five assists. Evan Winkelbauer had nine points, six assists and four steals.
The Broncos started a young team, some of them playing their first varsity game, including VanBrocklin and Welch.
"Cody did a pretty good job tonight. He made some good plays but also some boneheaded plays. For his first game on varsity, I expect that. He'll be good though. What will help him, is he can shoot the ball."
Richer said the offensive lull his team fell into in the second and third quarters could partly be attributed to not knowing the full playbook yet.
"With all this youth, we have hardly any offense in right now. We just have one guy returning (Norman) and I have maybe half my offense in. Actually, we did pretty good offensively; 54 isn't a bad number for mix and matching guys like we did."
The Wolverines led 53-34 after the third quarter before the Broncos exploded offensively in the fourth. Norman scored 14 of his points in the quarter, all while having four fouls.
Still, coach Branstrom was pleased with the team effort on defense.
"Our aggressiveness on defense was the name of the game. We live and die by it," he said.
Mid Peninsula (2-0, 2-0 Skyline, 1-0 CUP) has a week off before traveling to Republic-Michigamme on Thursday while Bark River-Harris (0-1 all counts) travels to Rapid River Monday.