Their best player is out hurt, possibly for the season. Another player is also out hurt. And yet a third cut his head in pre-game warm-ups and was questionable.
Then add to all that the fact that members of Beaver Dam’s prep boys basketball team were staring up at an eight-point halftime deficit and to say that the outlook was dim would be an understatement.
It turns out all that adversity only served to galvanize the Golden Beavers, though, as they locked down defensively in the second half while at the same time finding their groove on offense, leading to perhaps their most impressive win of the year — a 60-57, Badger North Conference victory over Sauk Prairie Tuesday night at Beaver Dam High School.
“Everybody was pulling on the same side of the rope tonight,” Beaver Dam head coach Tim Ladron said. “It’s just a really sweet win — it really is.”
It must be. After all, the Golden Beavers (13-6, 6-5 Badger North) were without Sam Wilke’s 18.9 points per game — they were also without Jordan Schwanke (3.8 ppg) off the bench, though Kyle Gebhardt was able to play despite the noticeable gash — and they were going up against a Sauk Prairie (11-8, 5-6) team that frustrated them into 19 turnovers the first go-round in a 61-47 loss on Jan. 4.
But despite trailing 32-24 at the break, the Beavers didn’t get rattled. Instead, they got to work.
Cade Ferron’s 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the second half sparked a 24-7 run — one during which he gave his team the lead for good with another 3 that made it 38-37 — that spanned the first 14 minutes of the half and gave Beaver Dam a 48-39 advantage.
“We had to switch gears from what we wanted to do and we sort of regrouped at halftime,” Ladron said of effectively scrapping the game-plan, a decision that helped ignite the comeback and led to only six turnovers this time around. “And we made a couple plays — you can regroup all you want, but if the kids don’t make plays, it doesn’t really matter.”
That 48-39 lead dwindled down to 51-47 when Dawson Evert canned a 3 with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining, though.
That’s when little-used freshman Nate Abel stepped into the spotlight and came up clutch, reeling off seven straight points — the first six by flashing open underneath against the weak side of Sauk Prairie’s half-court trap and the last one on a free throw — to all but ice the game at 58-52 with 28.4 seconds left.
“Those times at the end of the game when it’s close, you’ve got to make plays — that’s how you help your team win,” said the 5-foot-9 guard, who added that he was excited — not nervous — when he learned he’d be called upon more in Wilke’s absence.
“We haven’t needed to use him, (but) he’s incredibly heady — a really, really smart basketball player; smart beyond his years,” Ladron said of how it was that Abel beat the trap three straight times, the first time on an assist from game-leading scorer Connor Cullen (17 points), the next time from Kendric Jimenez — who also was called upon more in Wilke’s absence — and the last time from Ferron.
Abel didn’t come out of nowhere entirely, though — he’s been practicing with the varsity team since being called up six weeks ago.
And Ladron said his more experienced players trust Abel a great deal as a result, which made communication and execution much smoother on those three straight big baskets late.
Abel’s role down the stretch was doubly sweet, Ladron said, because not only did they help lead to the win but they also helped send the seniors — Wilke, Dillon Livingston (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals), Kyle Gabel, Cullen (who had four assists and three steals in additions to his 17 points), Justin Douma, and Gebhardt — out as winners on senior night.
Now the challenge for the Beavers — who are holding out hope that Wilke will be able to return for the postseason — is to keep it up once the emotions of this win wear off and their leading scorer is still on the bench in street clothes.
Ladron thinks they will.
“As a staff we weren’t quite sure where this thing would go tonight as far as rotation and things like that — we just didn’t have a real good feel,” he said. “And now we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we can and can’t do with our group, and we’ll just keep going from here.
“Our guys have sights on bigger things.”
BEAVER DAM 60, SAUK PRAIRIE 57
Sauk Prairie 32 25 — 57
Beaver Dam 24 36 — 60
SAUK PRAIRIE (57) — Trevor Spray 5, Carson Radl 3, Dawson Evert 9, Ben German 2, Elijah Jorgenson 11, Spencer Kostroski 6, Spencer Breunig 11, Jack Henderson 9. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 18 15-18 57.
BEAVER DAM (60) — Cade Ferron 11, Kendric Jimenez 5, Dillon Livingston 9, Kyle Gabel 1, Connor Cullen 17, Adam Bird 2, Nate Abel 9, Justin Douma 4, Kyle Gebhardt 2. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 19 15-25 60.
3-pointers: Sauk Prairie 6 (Carson Radl 1, Dawson Evert 1, Elijah Jorgenson 3, Jack Henderson 1), Beaver Dam 7 (Cade Ferron 3, Connor Cullen 3, Justin Douma 1). Total fouls: Sauk Prairie 19, Beaver Dam 17. Fouled out: Sauk Prairie — Carson Radl. Beaver Dam — Cade Ferron.