The season was in jeopardy for the Watertown-Mayer boys basketball team Saturday, as the Royals trailed Litchfield 41-33 with 9 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the Section 5AA playoff game. Despite a 7-1 foul disparity and their leading scorer on the bench, the Royals persevered on the way to a 66-56 overtime win.
“I’m extremely proud of the team,” coach Bob Hennen said. “We’ve had a few games like that where they have will their way to a win.”
With just under 10 minutes to play, Trae Berhow picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench for a crucial stretch in the playoff game. Though his team was down, the Mr. Basketball finalist was confident in his teammates.
“When I go down, I know I that my team is going to come back,” Berhow said. “They’ve handled it before, they’ve won games before without me, so it’s not a big deal. I know they’re going to come in and hit big shots and produce.”
With Watertown-Mayer’s leading scorer sidelined, Litchfield may have had ideas of extending the lead, but the Royals showcased why it takes a team to success.
A big part of the defensive effort was linked with the unselfishness of this Watertown-Mayer squad. Riley Alger and Drew Thibault were asked to forgo their usual opportunities on offense in order to play shutdown defense. The two guards played nearly every minute in attempts to slow down the top two scorers, which worked, as they held the opposing duo to less than their average scores.
The defense, which had been stout all game, continued to hamper the Dragons’ efforts, while Ben Theisen stepped up on the offensive end. The senior guard connected on several three-point plays, keeping the Royals within striking distance. Theisen also delivered the first lead for Watertown-Mayer since the opening minutes, confidently hitting a pull-up three to put the Royals in front at 51-49 with time winding down.
“He played terrific coming off of an ankle injury,” Berhow said. “I feel like he came in and played great, made hard shots, and did what you have to do to win games. When one player goes down, another one steps up.”
And while Litchfield forced overtime by knotting the score at 51-51, the Royals had no doubt they would win.
“Well our shots weren’t falling too much but we kept our heads up and kept playing as hard as we can,” Berhow said. “We knew that there is nothing that we can’t come back from – never let up. We knew once we got into overtime it was our game.”
“As a team we are just tough,” Theisen said. “We know if we play our best game, we can compete with anyone, and if we keep it up, there’s nothing we can’t do.”
In overtime, McKinley Gehlhausen gave Watertown-Mayer an early lead which they did not give up. The offense, which had been struggling early on, finally came together down the stretch to deliver the win.
“Our big player stepped up – McKinley came in, played a real big game, helped us out – down low in the post, hitting deep threes for us, brought us back in the game,” Berhow said. “Another big thing, when we went down with foul troubles, everyone started picking up, started moving the ball more often. When we started moving the ball, everything started flowing a lot better in the game, and that’s what brought us back initially. And then our defense started picking up, when the defense started picking up, they started struggling.”
So even though the prospect of moving on in the playoffs looked bleak midway through the second half, the Royals pushed through and on to face No. 3 seeded Annandale March 14.
“I think it shows a lot of heart,” Berhow said of the win. “Not a lot of teams like Annandale have had to struggle with a lot of deficits . . . they haven’t really had to handle being down in the game. So I feel like it is going to give us a lot of maturity, coming in and playing those guys next game – knowing how it feels to play down and know how to come back in a game.”