No one can accuse Almond-Bancroft’s Ethan Yonke of having a bad memory.
A devastating 59-52 loss to Wild Rose on Dec. 18 was still fresh on his mind when the teams got reacquainted in a Central Wisconsin Conference 10 rematch Jan. 24.
He was wondering if the Eagles had blown their chance at another Central Wisconsin Conference 10 title — A-B is the defending conference champion after blowing a double-digit halftime lead against the Wildcats
Perhaps a hint of desperation, and a lot of production from Yonke, who chimed in with 18 points and 15 rebounds, was all the Eagles needed to pick up a 44-34 win and keep the heat on Wild Rose in the chase for the CWC 10 title.
“It boosts all our confidence to go in and beat the No. 1 team in the conference,” Yonke said. “We’re fighting to stay right behind them (the Wildcats) , so if they do drop another game or two, we’ll be be right there to take over.”
Knocking off a conference unbeaten is the type of win that can propel a team forward over the remainder of the season.
And with the WIAA Tournament series right around the corner, there is nothing like a signature win over a team that came into the matchup 13-2 on the season to begin riding a wave of momentum.
Never is that more true than for the youthful Eagles (13-4), who lost six seniors from the 2011-12 CWC championship team.
With a starting lineup that features two seniors, a pair of juniors and a freshman, A-B coach Curt Lamb has been focused on finding the right mix and having the team gel as the season has progressed.
“We’ve been able to win a lot of games, but we’ve not played our best basketball yet. Our defense has been good all year, we just haven’t been able to consistently hit out shots or know where the basketball should be when,” Lamb said.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Lamb added. “It’s been a little frustrating at times because we knew we had the ability, it’s just been a matter of getting the guys to step up and do what they’re capable of doing.”
Yonke, a 6-foot-2 junior who is averaging 19.8 points and 12.4 rebounds a game, has been the foundation, the Eagles have built around this season.
Having suck a dominating presence in the paint has resulted in A-B running into just about every zone defense ever invented.
The same was true against Wild Rose, which made it abundantly clear stopping or at least slowing down Yonke was a top priority as has been the case all season.
“We were able to move the ball around really well against their defense. They double teamed me in the post, so I looked to kick it out and we were fortunate enough to make shots,” Yonke said. “I think the biggest thing is we’re getting pre-game jitters out with all the new people getting starts.”
Yonke one of the few returning players with any experience from last season, and his coach has seen him take his game to another level.
The same is true for the rest of the team, including senior Avery Faehling and Brett Beigel and Evan Pagel who have the ability to knock down perimeter shots on a consistent basis.
Exactly what that means as the rest of the season, including the postseason, shakes out for A-B is anyone’s guess. A lot will depend on how the seeding for the brackets looks.
The win over Wild Rose was a good starting point.
“It (beating the Wildcats) gives us a lot of confidence we can play good competition and we can compete with good, solid teams,” Lamb said. “They’re a good group to coach and fun to be around.”