How Watertown's boys basketball team ended its state-tourney drought

Watertown's Addi Johnston makes a pass during a high school girls basketball game against Sioux Falls Washington on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024 in the Watertown Civic Arena. Washington won 46-41.

WATERTOWN — Maybe this can be the first step in a return to glory for Watertown High School's boys basketball program.

Playing in front of one of their biggest home crowds in a few years, the seventh-seeded Arrows (13-8) ended a nine-year state-tournament drought with a 31-28 Class AA SoDak 16 victory over 10th-seeded Sioux Falls Lincoln (10-11) on Saturday night.

Watertown finally celebrated as a last-second 3-point attempt by Lincoln's Sam DeGroot was wide right.

"Nine years. It is a big step and it takes a group go get you over the hump," Watertown head coach Pat McClemans said. "I think that is why it was important we had a good crowd and we had some young kids in here. I think you have to generate excitement because kids are going a lot of different ways. Getting to state means a lot."

Welcome to the Modern Age

There are definitely a full share of Watertown High School boys baskeball fans who don't understand how a program that once made 11 consecutive state-tourney appearances from 1991-2001 (and won state titles in 1992, 1999 and 2008) will play in the AA tournament at Sioux Falls March 14-16 for only the second time since 2009.

Class AA basketball, and other sports, have become dominated by Sioux Falls or the Sioux Falls metro area schools. And good or bad, making it to state has become a battle for the traditional Eastern South Dakota Conference schools like Watertown.

"I don't think anybody realizes how hard this is for an ESD school. It's just hard," McClemans said. "I'm just really happy for the community and for these kids. It's just a very, very exciting time for them."

Call it a surprise attack

The Arrows have enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in years with a senior-laden group that includes all five starters and three top reserves. Since the start of SoDak 16 playoff games in South Dakota, Saturday marked only the second time in seven years of the system that Watertown hosted the state-qualify game.

It wasn't easy. For either the Arrows or the Patriots. Lincoln made 10 of 41 field-goal attempts for 24 percent, including a putrid 4-for-28 shooting error from 3-point range. It wasn't as if Watertown was red hot, finishing at 30 percent (12 of 40) from the field. The performance included a 1-for-17 effort from 3-point range.

"We guarded very well," McClemans said. "I know they didn't shoot it well but they didn't get very many easy ones either."

State AA Pairings: State AA girls and boys tourney set for next two weekends in Sioux Falls

The good news is that as bad as the low score and shooting numbers indicate, the Civic Arena atmosphere and the closeness of the battle made for a memorable game.

"It feels awesome (to be going to state)," Watertown's 6-foot-3 senior Caden Beauchamp said. "We've been working hard our whole lives for this and it's just always been a goal of ours. This place was packed and we couldn't have asked for a better outcome."

Watertown did manage to grab an 11-5 lead after one quarter (the biggest margin of the game for either team), but Lincoln rallied to pull within 15-14 at halftime.

The Arrows open the second half with a designed play that led to a layup for Beauchamp and appeared to be part of a concerted effort by Watertown to go inside more against a taller Lincoln team. The Arrows did miss a few close shots inside and also went only 6-for-17 in free throws but it did create foul trouble for the Patriots.

"We kept telling them at half that we had to throw the ball inside just to get a touch to at least make them honor us," McClemans said. "Caden was very active in the second half and we did a good job of getting him the ball."

Pulling out the victory

Beauchamp led all players with 13 points in the game and also added six rebounds. Dylon Rawdon added six points and six assists, Jake Olson six points and 10 rebounds and Kohen Kranz five points for Watertown, which gained a 30-20 advantage on the glass.

Seniors Braxton Mohr and Jack Smith paced Lincoln with nine and six points, respectively. Sam DeGroot, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who scored 22 points in Lincoln's 61-54 regular-season win at Watertown, battled foul trouble and Beauchamp's defense to finish with just five points.

Three of DeGroot's points came early in the fourth quarter and lifted Lincoln to a 28-26 lead with 5:05 left. DeGroot picked up his fourth foul 23 seconds later, returned to the bench for awhile, and Watertown scored the final five points of the game. Jake Olson made a free throw with 4:42 left and Beauchamp added field goals at 4:11 and 1:36.

Rawdon failed to convert on two free throws with 25.7 seconds left. Lincoln called timeout with 8.8 seconds remaining to set up a final play that ended up as a desperation 3-point heave by DeGroot at the buzzer.

Then it was time for Watertown to celebrate. It also provided a special moment for 6-0 senior guard Kohen Kranz, a four-year varsity regular and the son of longtime Arrow assistant coach Matti Kranz.

"Every game is tough but you have to fight through it," Kohen Kranz said. "Down the stretch of the season, we played reall well together and overcame a lot of adversity. I'm just really happy for everyone on the team. We'll have a little fun for awhile and then we'll get ready for the state tournament.

Here's highlights from other Class AA SoDak 16 games for Watertown's girls and Aberdeen Central's boys and girls on Friday and Saturday:

Season Ends for Aberdeen Central Boys

SIOUX FALLS — Fourth-seeded Sioux Falls Jefferson closed out the 2023-24 season for Aberdeen Central with a 54-36 on its home court on Saturday.

Jefferson (15-6) advances to the tournament March 14-16 in Sioux Falls.

The Cavaliers jumped out to a 17-5 lead after the first quarter to take control. Naser Ismail tallied 15 ppints, Isaiah Garang 10 points and Hayden Goff nine points and eight rebounds.

Parker Lemer notched 13 points and Brendan Phillips 10 for Aberdeen Central, which finished its season with an 8-13 record. Grant Fritz pulled down eight rebounds.

Watertown-Jefferson Girls Photo Gallery: Jefferson girl' basketball defeats Watertown during play-off game in photos

Class AA SoDak 16 Girls Basketball

The 2023-24 seasons came to a close Friday night for Watertown and Aberdeen Central's high school girls baskeball teams.

The 13th-seeded Arrows (7-14) lost to fourth-seeded Sioux Falls Jefferson 52-41 and 11th-seeded Aberdeen Central (9-12) fell to No. 6 Spearfish 72-48 in Class AA SoDak 16 state-qualifying games.

Watertown gave the host Cavaliers a tough battle. After Jefferson grabbed an 18-8 lead after the first quarter, the Arrows battled back to pull with 27-24 at halftime and evenn took a 32-31 lead on Emery Thury's field goal with 2:15 left in the third quarter.

Jefferson (16-7) closed out the period with by scoring seven of the final 10 points and after Miranda Falconer's 3-point early in the fourth cut the lead down to 39-36, the Cavaliers finished out the win with a 13-5 run.

Brinley Altenburg scored 18 points to lead Jeferson, which also got eight points from Aliyah McGovern. South Dakota State recruit Jaidyn Dunn battled foul trouble and scored all six of her points in the second half.

Jefferson shot 49 percent (22 of 45) from the field and grabbed 26 rebounds.

Thury paced Watertown with 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Jade Lund added nine points and Miranda Falconer seven. Avery Munger added nine rebounds.

The Arrows shot 27 percent (14 of 51) from the field and snared 34 rebounds. Watertown went 6-for-24 from 3-point range but only 1-for-12 in the second half.

Spearfish 72, Aberdeen Central 48 — Spearfish (15-6) avenged an early-season loss to the Golden Eagles to earn a berth in the state tournament.

Maria Bouman tallied 22 points and seven rebounds for Spearfish. Sofi Guthmiller added 16 points and Jozie Dana 11.

The Golden Eagles were led by Taryn Hermansen's 11 points and six rebounds. Lauryn Burckhard chipped in with seven points and six rebounds and Emma Dohrer seven points.

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This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Watertown, Aberdeen Central basketball teams try to qualify for state