ALTOONA — The Bloomer boys basketball team had its first big test of the season on Friday night. The Blackhawks passed it, but it wasn't easy.
Bloomer overcame a 13-point deficit on the way to a 62-53 overtime win over Altoona in tournament play to stay undefeated. The Railroaders, who are tied for first place in the Western Cloverbelt Conference entering the new year, took a big lead right out of the gates. The Blackhawks responded in a big way to improve to 6-0 on the season.
Altoona were hot to start the game, running out to an 11-0 lead in the first four and a half minutes. Bloomer finally got on the board with a 3-point play by Bradley Sarauer, but Altoona answered with five quick points to take a 16-3 lead.
After Bloomer talked things over in a timeout, the Blackhawks settled into the contest on both ends of the court and started chipping at the lead. A basket by Payton Dachel and a 3-pointer by Johnny Bleskacek gave Bloomer a quick 5-0 run to make the deficit more manageable. Meanwhile, Altoona's shooting went cold.
"The adjustment that we tried to make was on the defensive end of the floor," Bloomer coach Greg Van Grunsven said. "Altoona, to their credit, they were scoring some really easy baskets. They're an excellent team and they were scoring in the lane, so we tried to choke the lane off a little bit more and it was successful for us."
The Blackhawks had plenty of chances to put points on the board early on. Steals and quick outlet passes sent Bloomer on breakaway after breakaway, but Altoona routinely tracked back to snuff out the chances with blocks and forced turnovers.
"I just loved the aggressiveness. A couple of times I think we had kids thinking dunk in transition, and they were thinking aggressive thoughts," Van Grunsven said. "As long as they're aggressive thoughts, the coaching staff and their teammates are fine with that. Altoona just made a play."
With 7:30 remaining in the first half, Bloomer went on a 12-3 run over a span of a little more than four minutes to close the gap to 27-24. Bleskacek hit a pair of 3-pointers in the run, and it helped the Blackhawks get to within three points of a tie going into halftime.
Bloomer finally tied the game at the 12:55 mark in the second half on a strong finish in the paint by Caleb Ruf. The Blackhawks took their first lead of the contest about a minute later at 40-38 when Payton Dachel scored a basket.
The Blackhawks controlled the action for large chunks of the second half, methodically looking for an opening in Altoona's 1-3-1 zone. It slowed the quick pace of play that had made the Railroaders so successful in the opening minutes of the game.
"Our possessions got a little longer as the game went on, and I think that played a role in us being successful," Van Grunsven said.
Altoona kept fighting after surrendering the lead, and reclaimed it at a couple of intervals before Bloomer's Masen Miller made a 3-pointer with 3:15 remaining in the second half to give the Blackhawks a 51-49 advantage.
Dallas Ystebo tied the game with a basket for Altoona with about 2:30 left in regulation, and the Railroaders eventually got the ball back with a minute left in a tie game. They milked the clock in search of a buzzer beater, but their final shot went off the side of the backboard to sent the contest to overtime.
Bloomer dominated the extra period, outscoring Altoona 12-2 in a clutch performance. Miller got things started with another 3-pointer, and a pair of free throws by Ruf with 20 seconds left put things out of reach for the Railroaders with the score at 61-53.
"They're pretty mentally tough," Van Grunsven said of his team. "We played without one of our leaders in Aaron Price, and we had other kids step up into unfamiliar roles and they did very, very well."
Price was on vacation and Ruf played through an injury, but it wasn't enough for Bloomer to drop its first game of the season. Bleskacek led the team with 14 points, followed by Ruf and Sarauer with 13 apiece. Dachel finished with 12 points.
Bloomer faces Medford on Saturday night in a matchup of the winners of the tournament's first two games.