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WD’s Nick Bryant slices his way to the basket to score as the Bobcats punched their ticket to state with a 58-42 win over Decorah at Waverly-Shell Rock, March 1.

Together is how the Western Dubuque boys’ basketball team breaks down and ends every practice or post-game chat. In a circle, holding hands, as a team, as a unit, as one — shouting “Together.”

That’s exactly how the Bobcats (18-4) earned their ticket into the state tournament field when together they defeated the Decorah Vikings, 58-42, in their Class 3A, Substate 3 final played in Waverly, March 1.

“It was a total team effort. Everyone came out and played extremely well. We had a couple of lapses, but we overcame them and we did this together and that’s all that matters,” said Garrett Baumhover, one of the three senior starters for the Bobcats. “Me and Dylan (Johnson) have been dreaming about (going to state) since we were nine or 10 years old and to finally accomplish it feels awesome!”

This game felt like a boxing match between two top contenders as both teams exchanged some exciting shots while trying to take control of the game.

The duo of Baumhover and Johnson scored the first eight points for the Bobcats and it was Johnson’s first long-range triple of the affair that gave them an 8-7 lead midway through the opening quarter. Baskets by Andrew Oltmanns and Baumhover gave the Bobcats a 12-10 lead going into the second quarter.

Decorah continued to counter punch in the second quarter as the two teams traded the lead back and forth. The Vikings took a 19-18 advantage on a basket by Jacob Pipho with under two minutes to play in the first half.

That’s when the Bobcats tightened up the defensive pressure, changing the tempo of the game, helping create some distance between the teams.

After forcing a Viking turnover, Johnson found a wide-open Carson Schute in the corner for three. Baumhover stole the ball and won the race to the basket for a lay-up and, after another defensive stop, hooked up with Johnson who splashed a long three for a quick 8-0 run that put the Bobcats up 26-19 at the break.

“We were moving the ball and we got the ball up the court which led to a couple of fast-break points. Then Dylan hits a clutch three that sends us into halftime with some confidence that we grew on,” said Baumhover.

“I knew that if we just came out and played our game that we’d be fine,” said head coach Wayne Cusick of the team who were 16-0 when leading at the half.

“We put a little press on them right before halftime and that got us going. I looked at them and could see the Decorah kids kind of start putting their heads down as they were walking off the court and thought if we can come out after halftime and build on the lead they are going to crack. And they did, but to their credit, they kept fighting, they didn’t give up. It’s just a great accomplishment for our kids.”

Now that the Bobcats had a cushion, the team mission during the third quarter was to build on the lead. During those eight minutes of play they did just that, but it wasn’t easy. Two free throws by Baumhover built the lead to nine, 28-19, but a three by Decorah’s Bockman cut it to six. Consecutive buckets by Baumhover, Tommy DeSollar and Johnson pushed the lead to 12, 34-22, but another three by Bockman cut that to nine. Back-to-back baskets by juniors Nick Bryant and Schute grew the lead to 13, but Bockman again cut it back to nine as he scored baskets on consecutive possessions to make it 38-29 with over a minute to play in the third.

The Bobcats took advantage of that minute with Schute converting his offensive rebound into a putback basket. After a defensive stop, Western Dubuque decided to burn some time off the clock until Bryant dribbled his way into the lane for a floating jumper that put the Bobcats up 42-29 to end the quarter.

Together, during that important third quarter, the Bobcats grew their seven-point lead into a 13-point cushion, outscoring the Vikings’ Bockman 16-10.

“In the third quarter, we started to take control of the game. We came out of halftime with some great energy.

We communicated well and just went up from there,” said Johnson. “It took everyone as a team to get this win. We all came out and played well together and everyone had each other’s back.”

Knowing what was at stake, the Bobcats kept delivering blows because the Vikings, even though they were running out of time, weren’t surrendering.

Baumhover’s left-handed lay-in on the opening possession of the final quarter pushed the lead to 44-29. The Vikings got two free throws from Charles Robinson, 44-31. Schute drained another big three and it was Bobcats 47-31 with 6:20 left.

Decorah knew they had to make a move quickly if their season was going to continue. Treyton McCain cashed in on an old-fashioned three-point play and Bockman’s steal turned into a lay-up to get the lead down to 11, 47-36, with 5:30 still to play.

Back-to-back lay-ups, one by Baumhover, on the right side, followed by Bryant’s on the left, rebuilt the lead back to 15, 51-36, with 4:50 to play.

The Vikings made one more surge and Bockman’s lay-up got them back to within 12 points, 51-39, but that’s as close as they would get. The Bobcats’ defense kept Decorah off the scoreboard while Johnson, Oltmanns and Baumhover closed out the win with a combined seven- of-eight from the free throw line.

“Every one of those guys made a big play to help us get this win,” said Cusick. “We did make a few mistakes, but they got through that by focusing on the next play.

“That’s where these young men have really grown with their mental game, because they don’t worry about the play that’s behind them, they focus on the play that’s in front of them. What’s in front of us right now is Des Moines, and I just want us be the best version of ourselves that we can be down there.”

The Bobcats’ leaders against Decorah were: points — Baumhover 19, Johnson 12, Bryant 11, Schute 10, Oltmanns four, DeSollar two; rebounds — Johnson 12, Baumhover, Bryant and Schute five, DeSollar three, Oltmanns two; assists — Baumhover four, Bryant two, Johnson one; steals — Baumhover and Bryant two; blocks — Johnson two, DeSollar one.