The Spring Valley Cardinals and Elmwood/Plum City Wolves boys' basketball teams have relied on their stellar defenses to push through the first half of the 2018-19 season. But when the two defensive stalwarts met up on Thursday, Jan. 10, defensive effort wasn't enough to give the Wolves a fighting chance in their home Dunn-St. Croix Conference matchup.
The Wolves (4-6, 1-4) held the Cardinals (7-4, 5-0) under 60 points but were held back on the offensive end in their 59-23 loss by Spring Valley's man-to-man defense prowess and their own lacking confidence.
"We're struggling," EPC's head coach Zach Gilles said. "I think tonight was all about confidence; we just lacked it. I told the guys before the game that Spring Valley is probably the best man-to-man team that's on our schedule, and they're probably the most well-coached team in the conference, in my opinion."
Gilles' observations rang true on Thursday night.
The Cardinals got off to an 11-5 lead after forcing six EPC turnovers in the first five minutes of the game but allowed the Wolves to climb back to tie the game at 13-13 after Zack Phillips hit a 3-pointer at the 8:30 mark of the first half. However, instead of crumbling, the Cardinals buckled down, improved their ball movement against EPC's 1-3-1 zone defense and added an extra level of energy to their play.
"We were pretty stagnant for the first 10 minutes of the game against their defense, and (EPC) did a really good job in it, but the ball seemed to stick in guys' hands," Spring Valley's head coach Rob Bosshart said. "After the kids started to swing the ball, make a couple of cuts without the ball, we got some really good looks."
Aaron Borgerding finished the first half with 12 points and three steals and recorded 18 points on the night to lead all scorers. The Cardinals created a 29-15 lead at the half after sophomore Mike Bauer hit a 3 at the buzzer to cement his team's 14-point halftime lead.
After the break, the Cardinals turned their defensive effort up a notch by holding the Wolves to six second-half points and two made field goals. The Cardinals shot 51 percent from the field and held the Wolves to 9 of 35 shooting in their fifth conference win of the season.
"Our primary goal coming into the game was not to worry about our offense," Bosshart said. "We just wanted to be the best team that they've seen this year on the defensive end."
Bosshart was pleased with the increased sense of urgency his team played with in the second half, his players' ability to make in-game adjustments and the continued resiliency he saw from his Cardinals.
"The thing that we really like is the kids seem to show a sense of resiliency," Bosshart said. "They don't get down on themselves, and they don't get hung up in the 'Oh no, we're behind'."
Gilles was unable to say the same about his players who recorded 21 turnovers on Thursday night. However, no matter how big the deficit got, the Wolves continued to challenge the Cardinals' offense and hide their internal frustrations.
"When the ball isn't going in the basket, that's tough," Gilles said. "I can imagine it's tough for them when they're busting their butts on the defensive end and it's not going their way offensively. But that's who we are right now. We're very strong defensively, and we're continuing to work on offense every day."
As for Bosshart's Cardinals, they'll focus on improving their consistency on offense and the glass before next week's three-game schedule, which includes the physical Ellsworth Panthers (7-3) and Glenwood City Hilltoppers (3-8, 2-3).
"It's just been really fun watching the development of these kids," Bosshart said. "I don't know what the expectation was community-wise or conference-wise, and that doesn't really matter. The only thing that matters is what these kids expect of themselves."
The Wolves will host the Alma/Pepin Eagles (1-8) on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. The Cardinals will head to Ellsworth on Monday, Jan. 14, for their 7:15 p.m. matchup against the Middle Border Conference leaders.
Scoring for EPC: Nic Forster, Jackson Glampe 6; Tyler Maxwell 5; Phillips 3; Tyler Bauer 2; Jordan Brunner 1.
Scoring for Spring Valley: Borgerding 18; Dylan Bosshart 13; Bauer 8; Trevor Stangl 6; Lance McMurrin 5; Josh Hannack 3; Braeden Dumond, Cade Hannack and Colton Kotval 2.