WESTFIELD — In a majority of its wins this year, the Mauston boys basketball team has faced little adversity.
The Golden Eagles got all they could handle from Westfield on Feb. 9 but passed the test, earning a 73-59 win over the Pioneers in a South Central Conference game at Westfield Area High School. Junior Cade Hall scored a game-high 22 points as Mauston extended its win streak to four games.
“Tonight we had to slug it out and grind, and I think that helps when you get into a tough road environment and you have to pull on something to win that next possession or get that next ball,” Mauston coach Gil Saylor said. “We got to see some of that tonight and I thought that was nice.”
That came to the forefront midway through the second half when Mauston lost senior Joe Bauer. With Mauston leading 46-34, the guard was assessed a second technical with 13 minutes, 7 seconds left to play and ejected from the game.
Westfield senior Kaden Roberts proceeded to hit both free throws and ultimately Westfield pulled within 47-41 with 9:45 remaining. Mauston (13-4, 6-2 South Central) promptly extended its lead back to 10 at 51-41 with just under 8 minutes left after juniors Gage Kobylski and Trevor Gallagher each added a pair of free throws, but the Pioneers continued to pester the Golden Eagles.
Westfield (3-15, 1-7) battled back to within five at 53-48 after a pair of free throws by sophomore Weston Hoffa with just under 6 minutes remaining. And after Mauston pushed the advantage back to 58-48 after a Hall three-point play, the Pioneers pulled within 58-52 with 4:05 left.
With their lead trimmed again, the Golden Eagles made sure to close the door. Gallagher, who added 15 points, answered the Pioneers push with back-to-back layups to 62-52 with 3:04 remaining. A left-corner 3-pointer by junior Derek Drew pulled Westfield back within 66-57 with 2:10 left but Gallagher answered with four straight free throws and the Golden Eagles salted things away from the line.
“Rotations changed and they needed to learn how to adapt, and we haven’t had a lot of games in single-digits to be able to work on those things,” Saylor said. “We’re constantly still learning some of this stuff, and I thought tonight we responded really well. They didn’t let the highs and lows affect them, and that’s how you have to play basketball.”
The Golden Eagles were flying high in the first half as Mauston claimed a 41-26 halftime lead. Mauston opened the game on a 14-1 run, including six points from senior Kyran Fitzgerald and capped by a Bauer 3-pointer, with 13:35 left in the half.
Westfield eventually got into a groove, pulling within 24-17 with 6:50 left on a runner by junior Josh Koloske. The teams proceeded to trade punches with a free throw from Koloske making it 30-23 with 3:11 left in the half before Mauston went on a run.
The Golden Eagles ended the final 3-plus minutes on an 11-3 stretch to take the 15-point lead into the break. The key to Mauston’s success in the first half and down the stretch was its ball movement, as the Golden Eagles were able to pick apart the Pioneers zone.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time on the execution of our half-court offense, especially in zone, making sure we’re getting to places quickly and occupying spaces to put pressure on the defense,” Saylor said. “It was good to see that work pay off.”
Along with the duo of Hall and Gallagher, Fitzgerald added 14 points and Bauer chipped in 13, all in the first half, before exiting. Saylor credited the team’s cohesiveness and depth for holding off the Pioneers, and knows that the win will pay dividends down the road.
“They had a huge crowd, a huge night and it’s a conference road game. They’re all hard and you don’t get any extra points by winning by more,” he said. “You have to get your team seasoned and prepared.”