For a while on Tuesday night, it seemed as if the Sweetwater Wildcats would pull away from Brainerd. Sweetwater established a 12-point lead in the third quarter, but in the end, it was not enough to withstand a furious Panther rally in the fourth, and the Wildcats’ season came to an end at 28-3 with a 70-65 loss to Brainerd.
Kolbe Billingsley opened the game with a jumper and a 3-pointer for Sweetwater, but a 3-point play and two free throws by Trey Owten tied the game up at 5. Matthew Kile added two layups and Austin Long added four free throws to boost the Cats, but the Panthers responded with a trey by Ciante Chaney to cut the lead down to 13-10 after one quarter.
Dominique Oggs got his first basket to start the second quarter, but Brainerd responded with two free throws and another Chaney 3-pointer to tie the score at 15. The Panthers took the lead moments later on a Xiycier Lattimore 3-pointer. Brainerd also got treys from Owten and Cavonte McKibbins to maintain the lead, but layups from Carson Hicks and Billingsley tied the score, and a 3-pointer by Oggs gave the Wildcats the lead, 29-26, at the halftime break.
Billingsley hit a 3-pointer out of the half and Long and Kile added layups to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 10. Oggs and Billingsley followed that up with layups to answer an Owten layup and extend the lead to 12.
Brainerd fought back with a third 3-pointer from Chaney as well as a 3-point play from Lattimore. Oggs kept Sweetwater ahead for the moment with a layup and a 3-pointer and Billingsley added four free throws to counter a Lattimore 3-pointer. The effort kept the Wildcats ahead, clinging to a nine-point lead after three quarters.
McKibbins got the Brainerd comeback started in the fourth with a 3-pointer and Kevin Halfacre added six points on two baskets and two free throws to cut the Sweetwater lead down to 1. Oggs sank two free throws and Kile added two layups, as the Wildcats extended their lead again to 61-24. Brainerd had one last run, however, led by Halfacre, who sank a layup and three free throws in a row. A layup by McKibbins tied the game at 61 and two free throws by LaDerron Freeman gave Brainerd the lead.
With time running out, Oggs scored a layup to cut the Brainerd lead to two, and the Wildcats forced a five-second call on the inbounds to get the ball back. Oggs’ potentially game-tying layup was off the mark, and Brainerd rebounded, escaping the threat of a tie game. Sweetwater was forced to foul, and Halfacre and Owten converted from the stripe to seal the final margin.
Billingsley led the Wildcats with 21, while Oggs added 20 and Kile added 11. Halfacre led Brainerd with 17, Owten added 13 and Freeman had 10.