WATERTOWN — When a key part of the rotation goes down, it’s not just the old saying “next man up” that matters. “It takes a village” is just as important a mantra, and the Royals boys basketball team proved it in a big way against conference opponent Dassel-Cokato Tuesday night, winning 62-39.
Starting point guard Wyatt McCabe has missed the last few games with injury and the absence has forced a bevy of Royals to step up in his place. That depth couldn’t reveal itself at a better time hitting the halfway point of the regular season. The scoring totals have been low and unbalanced across the lineup in recent games — that wasn’t the case against D-C as John Mueller, Albert Rundell and Mitchell Burns each finished in double figures.
Leading that charge of depth in the W-M rotation was Sawyer Ritter, who began the season as a starter and has come off the bench in the last handful of games as a spark plug of energy, while Albert Rundell jumped into the starting lineup and has thrived lately as well with and without McCabe.
McCabe’s injury — along with Cayden Stucchi missing the game Tuesday — forced coach Kent Janikula to make another lineup adjustment, and Ritter got the call once again to join the starters. His hounding on ball defense and activity off-ball, along with patient shot selection, have been key in Watertown-Mayer’s four wins in their last five games.
“I know my role. At the beginning of the season, we saw we might struggle to score a little bit. And for me as a player, I know my role isn’t really to score that often,” Ritter said. “I come in and I play scrappy defense. Bert [Rundell] came in for me in the starting lineup and he’s been doing a great job getting us points. I don’t really have much to complain about.”
“John Mueller didn’t score 30 — we had other guys step up, which is good. I think tonight we saw it as an opportunity to get some easier looks,” Janikula said.
A sloppy first half on both sides made for a 23-17 Royal lead at halftime. The Chargers’ uptempo, wreak-havoc style of play visibly shook W-M’s starters, forcing five turnovers in the first 10 possessions. The first eight minutes flew by with D-C leading just 6-4, making life tough for Watertown-Mayer and giving the Chargers a glimpse of what could happen when they’re working the gameplan to a T.
“We play really well in spurts. And when we do put together a whole game, we’re going to be very suprised at what the outcome looks like and what we can do,” D-C coach Tony Dehler said.
“We played into their hands a little bit with that. We got a little go-go-go too early and it hurt us in some ways,” Janikula said. “We got good shots in the first half, we just didn’t make any. That’s been a problem for us.”
As the half went on, the Royals found a better rhythm and hit a smooth section of the road in the second frame, knocking down multiple three-pointers, which opened up the entire offensive side of the floor. Will Hensel, Sawyer Ritter, Rundell, Burns and Mueller all knocked down shots from deep.
“We don’t have a guy who can maybe knock down six threes, but we have a few guys that can knock down one or two,” Janikula said. “And what a big difference that makes.”
“I think our development offensively is increasing,” Ritter added. “After the first game [against Southwest Christian] was high-scoring, we thought we might be able to get in the swing of playing like that. Then we got into the Wright County schedule and we got hit with a brick wall.”
W-M used that hot three-point shooting along with multiple efforts on defense to extend the lead to 53-30, a 23-10 run over a nine-minute stretch in the second half fully putting the game out of reach. Ben Smock’s three-point shooting was a bright spot throughout as well as Collin Asplin knocking down two shots beyond the arc on his way to 10 points. The buckets just didn’t come at time the Chargers needed.
For Watertown-Mayer, the win moves them to 6-3 at the midway point of the season as the second round of Wright County West play begins Friday against a Glencoe-Silver Lake team that can score in bunches. Sluggish early starts won’t fly against Mitchell Jaskowiak and company.
“We’ve got a good challenge as Glencoe comes here. They beat us up last time,” Janikula said. “We have to put together a full game.”
Mueller led with 16 points, Rundell had 15 and Burns scored 10. Hensel added eight and Ritter six.
Dassel-Cokato falls to 1-9 and drops their eighth game in a row. Ben Smock scored 11, Asplin 10 points. They travel to Litchfield Friday, another team with a very contrasting style of play to what the Chargers run.
“Until we can sustain those good spurts, it’s hard for us to overcome those longer scoring droughts,” Dehler said. “When we do execute, a lot of good things happen. We got good shots, a lot of them just didn’t fall.”
For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Feb. 19 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.
Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR