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Bombers even the score with Rebels at home

Moose Lake-Willow River senior Hunter Klund takes off with a steal, with Barnum's Reece Parks (13) and Quinn Casey (2) in pursuit during Friday night's matchup. Dan Saletel/news@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Barnum freshman Kyle Kielty cuts through Moose Lake-Willow River defenders Jared Witkowski and Thomas Gulso on a leap to the basket Friday night in Barnum. Dan Saletel/news@pinejournal.com2 / 4
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With his Barnum boys basketball team's 68-56 victory over Cromwell-Wright Tuesday night, longtime coach Rich Newman won his 400th career game on Valentine's Day.

But afterward, the 53-year-old Newman didn't get a box of candy, a bouquet of flowers or a trophy for his continued success. Rather — like he's done for 19 years now — the Bombers head coach got on the school bus and headed back to Barnum.

"That's what one guy who's been counting in the crowd said, so I guess it is," said Newman of No. 400.

Newman, who took over the program in 1998 and has averaged over 20 wins a season since, is more concerned with individual games than career statistics.

Like the game last Friday in Barnum, when the gym was bursting at the seams.

Newman and his players notched yet another W — this one their biggest of the winter — when the Bombers beat Moose Lake-Willow River 47-38, repaying the rival Rebels for a loss earlier in the season.

As noted, fans flocked to Barnum last week. Although both the Bombers (9-12) and the Rebels (10-10) are having marginal results this winter, this Polar League showdown is always worth the ticket.

The first time these two met back on Dec. 9 in Moose Lake, the Rebels rallied to a 51-42 victory, in part by outshooting the Bombers 30-5 at the free-throw line.

Such was not the case in the sequel, as Barnum shot 27 freebies to ML-WR's 11 from the strip. In fact, the Bombers' 20 made for nine more than the Rebels attempted. That's saying a lot for a Barnum team that struggles with scoring often, averaging just 53 points per game this season.

That's where their defense comes in. Ironically, the Bombers are also allowing 53 points a night, but have gotten stingier over the last few affairs. Their lowest offing came last Friday when the Rebels could only muster 37 points — about 15 below their average — often struggling with Barnum's 1-3-1 defensive zone trap.

"We couldn't crack it," said first-year ML-WR coach Wes Cummins, a 2005 Barnum graduate. "It was infuriating — just frustrating."

While senior Reece Parks plays on the right-side wing of the trap, classmate Daniel Gilchrist is on the left. Both created and gobbled up plenty of steals along with their teammates, turning would-be Rebel possessions into simple scores in transition.

"We have a difficult time scoring, so we have to try and get some easy buckets," said Newman, defense always at the top of his to-do list. "Defense is all energy and will. If we can get them to do that, that will give you a chance to win."

"When we play good defense, we play a good game," added Parks. "Defense is our game. It leads to our offense."

Offensively, Parks put up 10 points, while Gilchrist gathered 11 and junior Kyle Kielty led with 21. ML-WR, meanwhile, was paced by junior Avery Kosloski's team-best 21 points, along with senior Jared Witkowski's 17.

While the Rebels' point production was limited, that didn't damper Cummins' homecoming, as it was the 29-year-old's first game back in Barnum wearing his new red and blue colors. He enjoyed it, he said.

Cummins, an English teacher in Moose Lake now in his seventh year, spent time during the junior varsity game looking at the Bombers' trophy case, as well as many of the banners that hang from the gym walls that he helped collect during his time in maroon and gold. Cummins said he chatted with many "old-timers" in the concession stand line prior to last week's game, while the nearly standing room-only crowd was good natured.

"It's a rivalry that will never go away," said Cummins. "Back when I played, the game sold out halfway through the JV game. They were turning people away at the door. It's fun to still see rivalry here for these kids, because that's really what high school athletics is all about."

"It was packed and it was warm and it was a good game," Newman added.

And one directed by two good coaches.

While Cummins has the Rebels at .500 and playing better than they started, he gives part credit to Newman, for whom he once played and coached under in the Bombers' junior high program. He said he went into teaching and coaching because of Newman, and offered nothing but praise when asked about his former coach.

"If there's in-game adjustments to be made, he makes them with the best of them," said Cummins, noting again for the effectiveness of the Bombers 1-3-1 zone.

As far as the 400 wins?

"His career record is incredible. The consistency is the thing. Anybody can win 20 games if you get the right group of kids to come through, but to do it every year, that's a true testament of a coach," said Cummins. "That's why he's one of the best in northern Minnesota."

"He knows basketball better than anybody," Parks chimed in.

And although he can get rather fired up from time to time, coaching is not about himself for Newman, but about his players.

"He likes to nitpick the little things, but that's what makes a good coach. He's improved my game a lot and really pushes us and helps us out. I wouldn't want any other coach," said Gilchrist. "And we didn't even know about the win tonight. He was very quiet about it — very humble."

"We've been blessed with some good, solid, hard-working kids," said Newman, deflecting praise to his assistant coaches during his tenure as well. "It's all on them."

Seven years still from 60, Newman, said he still has plenty of gas left in his coaching tank.

"We've got a pretty good kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade crew coming up," he said with a laugh.

By then, maybe he'll be on his way to 700.

One can be certain Newman's fans will still be counting.

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