Patriot boys have grown as team

The Hills-Beaver Creek boys’ basketball team has come a long way this winter.

I witnessed H-BC’s season-opening loss to Pipestone and Monday’s regular season finale (a win over W-WG).

In my mind, no area team has improved more over the past three months than the Patriot boys.

With one returning starter from a team that went 11-15 in 2011-12, H-BC was in a rebuilding mode starting the season.

The Patriots have overcome a rocky start and head into postseason play with a 13-10 record and currently are playing their best basketball of the season.

The way H-BC started the season was a trying experience, to say the least.

H-BC did post a quality win by handing the Luverne Cardinals their first setback of the season right before Christmas, but that was the lone highlight in the campaign’s first six-plus weeks.

On Jan. 21 H-BC sported a 4-8 overall record and was in seventh place in the Red Rock Conference with a 2-4 mark.

The second half of the regular season was much kinder to the Patriots.

Since Jan. 24 the Patriots have won nine of their last 11 games and eight of their last nine games.

The stretch includes a six-game winning streak that ended with a loss to RRC champion Southwest Christian on Feb. 19.

During the same time span, H-BC climbed from seventh place in the RRC to a tie for third place with a 10-6 conference record.

As an outsider looking in, I really like the look of this basketball team.

H-BC’s three-senior, two-junior starting lineup consists of five players who bring different skill sets to the court.

Even more importantly, each player seems to embrace the role they need to fill in order for the team to be successful.

Senior point guard Colton Bass isn’t asked to score, but he runs the team’s offense well and his athletic ability makes him an excellent defender.

Senior Jeff Sandbulte and junior Dylan Gehrke are counted upon to produce points and are excellent rebounds for their size.

Sandbulte, who can bury the three-point shot and turn offensive rebounds into points, is a classic inside-outside threat.

Gehrke can sink the three and can beat opposing defenders off the dribble.

Sophomore Carey Taubert and senior Jon Gallagher bring the team different benefits as post players.

The 6-2 Taubert is an excellent athlete with great quickness and excellent jumping ability. He can score and rebound well.

Gallagher is a 6-7 post with a football player’s body. He gives the Patriots a physical presence in the paint and creates a match-up problem for every team H-BC faces.

Seniors Zach Wagenaar and Justin Kerkhove-Brandt and sophomore Braden Ellingson round out H-BC’s eight-player rotation.

All three of the reserves play with intensity when they enter the game.

It will be interesting to see how H-BC fares in the postseason.

During Saturday’s opening round the Patriots face a Fulda team they defeated by 15 points in Hills Jan. 29.

The Raiders are riding high after handing Mountain Lake Area its second RRC setback of the season Monday.

That makes the H-BC-Fulda match-up even more intriguing to me.

The winner of that game probably will have to play Southwest Christian in the semifinals March 7.

Both H-BC and Fulda will be underdogs in the semifinals, but anything can happen in tournament play.

If you don’t recall, the eighth-seeded Patriots gave the top-seeded Eagles one of their stiffest challenges during SWC’s playoff run that resulted in a second-place finish at the state tournament last season.

H-BC sported a four-point lead over the Eagles with less than three minutes left to play in the quarterfinals before falling by three points at game’s end.

Based on the way this team has improved since December, I’m sure the Patriots won’t lie down without putting up a fight if they get the chance to meet SWC March 7.

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