SAUK RAPIDS — As early season victories go, this one had a signature feel to it for Sauk Rapids.
The Storm beat St. Cloud Tech 48-45 Tuesday night in the Central Lakes Conference opener.
They got some big plays at the end to knock off a nemesis that dominated Sauk Rapids in recent seasons.
“It means a lot,” junior forward Tyler Kranz said. “We had them on the ropes twice last year and we couldn’t pull it out.
“This means a lot, especially here in our home opener.”
Tech (0-1 CLC, 2-2 overall) had a chance to tie it after Kranz made one of two free throws with 5.1 seconds left. However, James Kaczor’s open 25-footer bounced off the rim as time expired.
“It was guts,” Storm head coach Rich Spiczka said. “We’re starting to play with some guts.
“The kids are buying in and are playing with some guts and resiliency.”
Kobe Boraas may have had the play of the game for Sauk Rapids (1-0, 2-1). The senior guard stole the ball from Brevyn Spann-Ford in the lane, setting up Kranz’s free throws.
“We put ourselves in a position to win it,” Tech head coach Mike Trewick said. “I’ll take James shooting the ball for us and Brevyn with the ball in his hands inside.
“But it didn’t fall for us. We didn’t finish.”
This one was close throughout. Sauk Rapids led by as much as six, but Tech was always close. The Tigers last led with 6:10 to play on a put-back by Jack Mussman, the mammoth 6-foot-5, 330-pound post.
“Jack had a great game,” Trewick said.
But Sauk Rapids went to work in crunch time. After Camden Jackson made two free throws to put the Storm up 40-39, Kranz scored off an offensive rebound to make it 42-39 with 3:57 to go.
Spann-Ford made one of two free throws to cut it to 42-40.
Sauk Rapids then killed about a minute off the clock, patiently working the ball around Tech’s zone. Jackson then drove to put the Storm up 44-40.
“I think it was a well-fought game for us,” said Jackson, the 5-9 sophomore guard, who had 12 points and three assists. “We just had a lot of great effort at the end.”
Tech wasn’t quite done. Kail Lindgren nailed a three-pointer with 1:35 to go to cut the deficit to 45-43.
The potential back breaker for the Tigers was Kuerkot Tongyik scoring on a tip-in to make it 47-43.
Tech cut it to 47-45 with 35 seconds to play. Kaczor, the sophomore guard, scored on the fast break after a nice outlet pass off a rebound by Spann-Ford.
Tech then fouled Kranz, the athletic 6-5 post, who missed the front end of the one-and-one with 23 seconds left. Spann-Ford, the 6-7 sophomore, got the rebound, his 12th.
Then came Boraas’ steal.
The difference may have been the Storm’s defense at the end.
“We spend about 90 percent of our time working on defense in practice,” Kranz said.
Teammate Cody Landwehr, the 6-6 sophomore who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, smiled when told about Kranz’s remark, perhaps a slight exaggeration.
“A little bit,” Landweher said. “It’s something we work on a lot.”
“These guys all know how to play and score,” Spiczka said. “We spend a lot of our time in practice on defense.”
Sauk Rapids plays Friday at Fergus Falls. Tech is host to Willmar on Friday.
“(The Storm) are very good,” Trewick said. “Rich has done a nice job of bringing this group along.
“They’ve got a lot of nice players. I expect them to be contending for the conference right to the very end.”
TECH (45) — Max Martig 2, Brevyn Spann-Ford 15 (12 rebounds, 3 steals), Trevor Koenig 4, James Kaczor 7, Chris Backes 0 (5 assists, 3 steals), Kail Lindgren 11, Darian Washington 0 (2 steals), Jack Mussman 6. Totals: FG 16, FT 9-15, REB 35, ASST 8, ST 6, TO 14, PF 16.
SAUK RAPIDS (48) — Kuerkot Tongyik 3 (8 rebounds, 3 assists), Tyler Kranz 17 (7 rebounds), Cody Landwehr 12 (11 rebounds), Kobe Boraas 1, Camden Jackson 12 (3 assists), Anthony Massman (5 rebounds), Tavon Bemboom 0. Totals: G 19, FT 7-12, REB 36, ASST 11, TO 15, PF 15.
Halftime score: Sauk Rapids 24, Tech 20
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.