PRAIRIE DU SAC — When it faced a bit of adversity on Tuesday night, the Sauk Prairie boys basketball team rose the occasion in a big way.
In the decisive stretch, the Eagles used an 11-0 run over a 6½-minute period toward the end of the first half to roll to a 66-52 win over Portage in a Badger North Conference game at Sauk Prairie High School.
“Every time we play Portage, in the five years I’ve been here, it’s been a battle,” Sauk Prairie coach Levi Massey said. “Our guys knew that if we didn’t match that intensity and bring it right away, it was going to be a tough game for us. But we matched it, we hit some shots early and our defense backed it up.”
The Eagles (3-3, 2-2 Badger North) built an 8-2 lead after a layup by senior Spencer Kostroski with 15:27 left in the first half. The Warriors (4-4, 3-1) eventually got cooking and proceeded to trade baskets until a jumper by senior Craig Steele and a layup by sophomore Brett Walker pulled Portage to within 22-18 with 8 minutes left in the half.
Sauk Prairie answered Portage’s push with an 11-0 run. Senior Carson Radl scored seven straight points in the middle of the run, including a 3-pointer from the corner, as the Eagles extended their edge to 33-18.
The Warriors eventually halted the spurt with a floater by senior Erik Isakson with 1:24 to go in the half and went into the locker room down 35-20.
“I just thought we contested really well,” Massey said of the strong defensive stretch. “On the catch, we were on the ball. We weren’t late in our closeouts, we were closing under control and forced them to take shots from the outside that were contested or play off the dribble to the contested shot. We didn’t give a lot of easy touches on the inside.”
Coming out of the break, Sauk Prairie picked up where it left off, building a 41-24 lead with 16 minutes remaining after a Kostroski 3-pointer. The Warriors were able to answer, trimming the lead to 41-29 with 11:30 left after a 3-pointer by Eli Considine.
But the Eagles answered right back with a mid-range jumper by Kostroski and a slicing layup by senior Elijah Jorgenson that gave them a 45-29 lead with 10:40 to play. Sauk Prairie pushed the lead to as many as 19 points when sophomore Trevor Spray hit a 3-pointer with 8:30 remaining. Again Portage clawed back, pulling within 57-45 on a 3-pointer by Isakson with 4 minutes left, but the Eagles responded and salted the game away.
While the Eagles were able to fend off the Warriors down the stretch, Massey knows his team could have played cleaner.
“I was disappointed that we turned the ball over as much as we did down the stretch,” he said. “We did what we had to do to close the game, but I would have been a little more pleased if we had taken care of the basketball down the stretch.”
Kostroski and Radl led the way for Sauk Prairie, finishing with 18 points and 17 points, respectively.
“Those two have done it at the varsity level for their third year so they know each other, feed off of each other and can play to each other’s strengths,” Massey said of the senior guards.
Jack Henderson chipped in 12 points for the Eagles.
With the win, the Eagles improved to .500 on the season, but Massey knows there is a lot of season left.
“This is how the Badger Conference works. You have to defend your home court and try to steal games on the road against teams in tough situations, and that’s going to be a battle for us the rest of the year,” he said. “We have guys that can compete and battle in every situation, and I feel as we keep buying into getting better, the growth process will continue to happen.”