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Jack Brown, Red Lake go down swinging as season ends in 8A championship

Mar. 15—THIEF RIVER FALLS — The Red Lake boys basketball team wasn't going down without a fight in the Section 8A championship game on Friday night in Thief River Falls.

The Warriors faced long odds for a comeback against Fertile-Beltrami, trailing 46-27 at halftime and 55-30 just minutes into the second half. Then Jack Brown made his presence felt.

Red Lake's senior guard splashed back-to-back deep 3-pointers from the wing, giving the Warriors a surge of energy that they used to cut the deficit to 64-50. But Fertile-Beltrami firmly reestablished its dominance down the stretch, and the Falcons extinguished Red Lake's state tournament hopes with a 92-67 win.

"They had the momentum going with their side, and then they kept going with it," said Red Lake head coach Nolan Desjarlait. "We tried (to call) timeouts, and they still kept rolling with their momentum. We would chip away, but then they would come make a little run. This game is about runs. We missed a couple of shots here and there, and then their run would go a little bit longer."

Fertile-Beltrami (24-6) brought the top seed in the 8A West subsection into the matchup, and the Falcons separated on the scoreboard early on. Brown swished a wing 3 to give Red Lake (No. 3 in 8A East) a quick 3-0 lead. But Fertile-Beltrami seized an 11-9 advantage on Easton Petry's layup and maintained the edge the rest of the way.

"We started out slow again, built ourselves a hole that was much harder to come out of," Brown said. "We fought, we kept fighting, but there's only so much you can run when you have to play D. That's where we went bad."

Brown put forth a true display from distance as the Warriors battled back in the second frame. He dribbled into multiple tape-measure 3-pointers, igniting the expansive Red Lake cheering section in attendance. For a moment, it seemed the Warriors might have another improbable comeback in them after rallying back from 17 points behind Mahnomen/Waubun on Wednesday.

"You never know when your last game is going to be, so you've got to go out there and come out firing," Desjarlait said. "Keep everything firing on all cylinders, no matter what game it is. There were shots coming from like NBA range. If there was a volleyball net, it would be the volleyball line. That boy can shoot."

Brown's brief flash ultimately proved to be just that, the final flicker of his Red Lake career. Yet the grit he displayed in fighting through a sprained ankle resonated in the aftermath.

Brown had nursed his injured ankle through multiple section tournament games since spraining it two weeks ago. He fought through it to score his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, and he poured in a game-high 28 points on Friday for his final performance in a Red Lake uniform.

"It was good (today)," he said afterward. "After the Mahnomen game, I kind of got a feel for how it would be. After that, it felt back to normal. ... I don't feel much (pain right now). Maybe when the adrenaline wears off."

Brown's spirit epitomized the resolve of the Warriors' historic run. After seven seasons split between Class A and Class AA, Red Lake reached a section title game for the first time since 2017. The Warriors claimed an upset win over East No. 2 seed Win-E-Mac in the section quarterfinals and followed it up by surmounting Mahnomen/Waubun with their thrilling comeback victory in the semis.

As seniors David Dudley Jr., Amad Guise, Gerald Kingbird Jr., Orville White and Brown wind down their Red Lake careers, they've left a strong foundation for Red Lake's younger players to build upon.

"We never gave up on each other," said Desjarlait, who took over as head coach before those seniors' freshman season. "We continued to fight until the (final) horn. ... Having them for the past four years, having them as freshmen, you watch them grow, develop, mature a lot as a group, as a unit. They all take care of each other, watch each other's backs."

For Brown, it was a special opportunity to showcase his skills in front of 2,526 fans at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Though the pain of the loss lingered afterward, he remained grateful for the support from Red Lake's prolific traveling party of supporters.

"(I'll remember) my teammates and the fans, how much they supported us," Brown said. "I have to give it to my teammates, man. A lot of ups and downs and fights through the season, but we (fought) through it. At the end of the day, we're still brothers. ... It's a lot of people (who came), and they really love to support their basketball team and their community."

Fertile-Beltrami 92, Red Lake 67

RL 27 40 — 67

FB 46 46 — 92

RED LAKE — Brown 28, G. Kingbird Jr. 23, R. Kingbird 4, Perkins 4, Beaulieu Jr. 2, Day 2, Dudley Jr. 2, Harris 2.

FERTILE-BELTRAMI — Swenby 27, Sorenson 17, Hanson 16, Nowacki 11, Stoltman 10, Petry 5, Gullickson 2, Henrickson 2, Opdahl 1, Strem 1.