Bulldogs bounce Cards in homecoming comeback


February 24, 2023

Dave Harwig

Cromwell's Noah Foster shoots a 3-pointer over Carlton's Sam Ojibway during Friday night's basketball game.

Having already sunk five 3-pointers on the night, Cromwell-Wright's Dylan Nyberg was probably the last player Carlton wanted to toss up a potential game-tying triple as the buzzer sounded Friday.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs and their frenzied faithful, Nyberg's 25-footer from the right wing bounced off the backboard, the rim and finally fell to the floor before the blue-and-white heaved a collective sigh of relief in Carlton's 53-50 comeback victory.

Following a missed free-throw from the Bulldogs to ice it, the Cardinals had rebounded the basketball and raced it down the court in a mere 5 seconds and into the hands of their top shooter, Nyberg.

"I was nervous for a second," said a wide-eyed Sam Ojibway, a Carlton junior who was on the court during the final play. "That's not who we wanted to shoot it at the end. I was relieved when it hit the ground."

A year ago, it was the visiting Cardinals that soured the Bulldogs' same homecoming night with a 52-33 win, while on Jan. 3 in Cromwell this season, the hosts won a close 60-52 contest.

In fact, Bulldogs head coach Shawn Filipiak said it's the first time his Carlton crew has beaten Cromwell-Wright in his tenure. Seeing the coach smiling with his jubilant players moments afterward was evidence of their excitement.

"There's been peaks and valleys," said Filipiak. "And this was the best win for us this season."

The come-from-behind Polar League victory was propelled by a plethora of shot-making by the Bulldogs, as they were an effective 4-for-10 from beyond the arc and 19-of-28 inside of it, good for a blazing 68-percent clip.

"I'll take 68-percent any day of the week," said Filipiak.

Comparatively, Cromwell-Wright carded 12-for-23, 52 percent, from the field, and 8-of-32, just 25 percent, from downtown.

That formula of offensive efficiency, mixed with a bend-but-don't-break zone defense, brought Carlton back from a 23-21 halftime deficit.

"Sometimes it's as simple as putting the ball in the basket," said longtime Cardinals head coach Bill Pocernich. "Carlton did some things very well. At the end of the day, they put the ball in the basket one more time than we did, and that was that."

No one put the ball in the basket for Cromwell-Wright more than Nyberg, the smooth-shooting sophomore who poured in 17 points, followed by 15 from classmate Brady Dahl and 10 from junior Tanner Collman.

Still, it wasn't enough for the Cardinals, who according to Pocernich, have been battling sickness, shooting inconsistencies and a gauntlet of a schedule over the last several weeks.

A contender in their half of Section 5A, the Cardinals (10-12) shot better in an 84-59 loss at Mountain Iron-Buhl on Monday, Feb. 20, as they got healthier. Meanwhile, their competitiveness can never be questioned.

"It's not for the lack of effort," Pocernich said. "We're through this three-week stretch. We shot the ball better on Monday. And, that's contagious. Hopefully we can build off that as we head toward March."

The shifty 6-foot, 140-pound Ojibway, meanwhile, scored 9 points, and marched his way through the scorebook last week, as the guard had all of his hoops after halftime to help spark the Bulldogs' 32-point frame.

Classmate Luuke Korpela carried his weight as well, as the sizable 6-1, 170-pound junior forward finished with a game-best 21 points, with 11 in the first half and 10 more in the second.

Korpela's younger brother, Jackson, a sophomore, tallied nine, while juniors Gavin LeBrasseur and Dante Thompson each scored seven in the rally.

Dave Harwig

Carlton's Sam Ojibway scores in front of Cromwell's Drew Nyberg during Friday night's Carlton homecoming basketball game.

That unselfish play has paced the Bulldogs (9-10) all winter and was again a focus for Filipiak last week. Carlton, in Section 7A, carded another 89-61 win Tuesday, Feb. 21, at basketball-storied Braham, giving them nearly twice the victories as they had all of last year - five.

"As a whole, we talked about how much the ball has to move - and it did," said Filipiak of the scoring balance against Cromwell-Wright. "That was the most complete we have played all season."

"It's up there, for sure," added Ojibway when asked where their win over the Cardinals ranked. "Especially on homecoming night."

It was actually Carlton's final homecoming game as Bulldogs. Next season, they'll play as Raptors, combining all athletic programs with nearby Wrenshall beginning this spring.

"The last year as a Bulldog - that's pretty special," said Luuke Korpela. "It doesn't get much better than that. We'll remember this one for the rest of our basketball careers."


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