SECTION 5AA BOYS BASKETBALL: Royals take care of upset-minded HLWW

WATERTOWN – Just a couple of years ago Watertown-Mayer boys basketball coach Kent Janikula was showing his team highlights from the NCAA Tournament of No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5 seeds. This year was a different story as the Royals came in as the higher seed and took care of business with a 73-49 win over the Lakers Wednesday night.

“It’s a little different now when it comes to motivation,” Janikula said with a laugh. “That’s our section though with them being a No. 12 seed. It’s both good and bad to have familiarity with an opponent in the playoffs but we knew what to expect. We took a punch from them early but I thought we executed the rest of the way and that changed everything in terms of momentum.”

HLWW had the feeling of an upset on their minds coming in and looked the part early on. Thanks to some hot shooting from 3-point range to start, the Lakers hung right with the Royals through most of the first half.

“We played extremely hard all game,” HLWW coach James Carr said. “We came out and executed the way we wanted to. The end of the first half kind of got away from us though but I’m proud of how the guys competed.”

HLWW was within five with just over five minutes left in the first half. That’s when W-M made their run as they closed the half on a 13-2 run and then opened the second half with the first six points of the half to break things open.

“Those are big momentum swingers,” Janikula said. “To win the last bit of the first half and come out the way we did in the second half was big.”

W-M’s game plan was clear from the start. With HLWW missing Alex Zimmermann who was out with injury, the Royals leaned on their big men inside each time down the floor as they outscored HLWW 58-18 in the paint.

“That’s kind of our gameplan in general but with them missing a guy inside that was obviously part of the game plan,” Janikula said. “We have three guys who can score inside so we wanted to make sure we found the matchup we like and pound it inside and I thought we did a good job of that.”

Despite missing one of their key big man and scorers, Carr was happy with how his team fought despite being short-handed.

“We’ve dealt with injuries all season and have had guys step up into big roles,” he said. “It was fun to see guys step into positions where they kind of played out of position a bit. They got after it and worked really hard.”

With the loss, HLWW’s season comes to an end with an overall record of xx-xx. The Lakers took a big step forward this season as a program thanks to two key seniors in Cole Gilbert and Chase Deiter.

“Cole was kind of the heart and soul of our team,” Carr said. “He rebounded for us and almost averaged a double-double. He was able to hit tough shots and could get as hot as any player we’ve seen. He hit a lot of big shots. Chase was our absolute motor when it came to energy. We know when we put Chase in there he is going to give us everything he has. Chase and Cole take charges every single night and our younger guys saw that and it carried over to them. That’s a huge energy thing for us and it started with our seniors. That’s a selfless play. When your seniors and captains are doing that, it’s a good thing for your program.”

The future is bright for HLWW going forward with several sophomores and juniors returning next season. After getting a taste of what varsity basketball is all about, Carr is excited about the future of the program going forward.

“It was good for them to experience a playoff game with this much intensity and experience the grind of a full varsity season,” he said “A lot of these kids who were playing didn’t play a lot on junior varsity or have many varsity minutes. All these minutes they got this year will pay dividends next year.”

With the win, W-M advances to the Section 5AA quarterfinals where they will face either Minneapolis Edison or Southwest Christian. While W-M’s section is loaded from top to bottom, Janikula is hoping the experience his team brings pays off.

“Pretty much every kid who’s playing for us has playoff experience,” he said. “I think that does matter. Last year we played the state champions twice and the runner-up in the playoffs. We’ve got a lot of experience. These kids played in the state football playoffs and the state baseball tournament. I think that helps. I thought the kids were excited and not nervous in the locker room beforehand. I think that’s a credit to the success they’ve had across the board.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

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