Depth, talent and focus make Battlers a threat
The Battle Lake boys basketball team has the focus of a group that knows there is the potential for a special ending to this season.
The Battlers were one of just two undefeated teams left in the state after moving to 17-0 with a 67-25 win at Brandon-Evansville last Thursday night. It was their sixth straight win by at least 30 points, and they’re beating teams by an average of almost 35 a game.
The Battlers never let themselves take a night off against teams they know they can beat soundly. It’s a trait that could help them down the road as they try to make their second straight state tournament appearance.
“We just try to treat every game the same,” senior starter Tyler Ukkelberg said after scoring 11 points in the win over the Chargers. “Whether we’re playing another undefeated team or we’re playing a team like this. We got to come out every night focused and ready to play.”
The Battlers showed that focus in beating the Chargers (2-14, 0-9 LEC) for the second time this season. There was no standing around on either end of the court. They hustled after loose balls and used their defense to get out in transition for a lot of easy buckets in the first half. That led to a 37-12 lead by the break.
“I’ve been in the Little Eight Conference for six years now,” Brandon-Evansville head coach John Holsten said. “They’re the best team I’ve ever seen in the conference.”
The Battlers can come at teams in waves. Of the seven players who scored last Thursday, all of them had at least six points. Senior guard Dan Marso had three triples and a game-high 15 points. Junior Petric VanErp joined Ukkelberg with 11. Sophomores Andrew VanErp and Tony Ukkelberg had nine and eight points, respectively. Freshman Eric VanErp added seven, and junior Nick Trosdahl had six.
The Chargers had no answer for that kind of depth. Skyler Quinn was the only Brandon-Evansville player in double figures. He had 10 to go along with six rebounds, five steals and one assist. James Huisman had all five of his points in the first half, and Troy Fuller added four.
“It’s nice to have depth with how much we run,” Tyler Ukkelberg said. “Even the people who are in the best condition get tired every now and then, so you got to have guys who can come in and are ready to play and can fill the shoes of the guy they just came in for.”
The Battlers knew they had the potential to put together a memorable season this winter the moment after their season ended with a loss to Upsala at the state tournament last year. Battle Lake returned all five starters from that group. That’s why it was easy to put in the work heading into the offseason.
“Last year was kind of a surprise getting to state, so I think that gave us the taste and now we want to go back and go farther,” Ukkelberg said. “I know it [added motivation] for me, and I think it did for the rest of the guys, too. We returned all five starters, and I think we all understand what we’re capable of, and we all know we want to get there.”
This whole team knows the state tournament is the end goal, but it’s not something they focus on. Even in the midst of a 17-game winning streak, they don’t let themselves look any further than the next game on their schedule.
“We got to take one game at a time,” Marso said. “If we get there, we get there. That’s what the goal is, but we just got to take one game at a time and play every night. It would be a big deal [to make it to state], but we can’t be focusing on that right now.”
Quinn has played through two games against the Battlers this season and admitted that he would be surprised if they don’t make it out of the Section 6A field.
“They’re very good,” the sophomore forward said. “They’ll be there [at state]. They’ll get there. I’m pretty sure about that.”
It’s nothing that the Battle Lake players don’t hear from time to time around the community. That chatter about a state tournament appearance will only intensify as they keep racking up wins during the regular season.
These players do everything they can to block that out. They know they can’t look too far ahead if they want to meet those expectations as the competition gets better come tournament time.
“It’s not a big issue,” Ukkelberg said. “Sometimes you hear people talking about how, ‘Oh you guys are going to make it to state.’ It’s like, ‘No, don’t be saying that yet because you still got to come and play the game.’ You can lose any game on any given night. It’s not so much face to face but it’s just stuff that you hear, or stuff that your parents hear. You just got to try to avoid it and stay focused.”
GAME STATISTICS BATTLE LAKE 37 30 – 67
BRANDON-EVANSVILLE 12 13 – 25
TOTALS – B-E – FG – 10-39; FT – 5-12; Rebounds – 20; Turnovers – 18; Battle Lake – FG – 28-51; FT – 4-6; Rebounds – 35; Turnovers – 11
B-E – Taylor Bitzan – 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists; McKenon Plaster – 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist; Brandon Christianson – 1 rebound; Troy Fuller – 4 points, 1 rebound; James Huisman – 5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist; Tom Bosek – 1 rebound; Quinn – 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 assist; Will Schroeder – 1 point, 2 rebounds
BATTLE LAKE SCORING – A. VanErp – 9; Marso – 15; Tony Ukkelberg – 8; P. VanErp – 11; Tyler Ukkelberg – 11; E. VanErp – 7; Trosdahl – 6