Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 22, 2001

The great Watertown comeback of 2001

By Tom Schmidt

It's been almost 50 years since Yogi Berra uttered the immortal phrase, "It ain't over till it's over."

On a recent weekend, a bunch of 8th grade Watertown basketball players for the Watertown-Mayer Youth Basketball Association (WMYBA) found out, first-hand, just how wise Berra was.

The Watertown boys team played two outstanding games on Saturday, to start the weekend, beating both Orono and Armstrong by more than 20 points. On Sunday, the Royals found themselves favored in the championship game against a tough Minneapolis South team.

From the tip off, the Minneapolis team completely dominated every aspect of the game. At the end of the first quarter, the Royals were down 17-5.

It appeared they were not only outsized, but just plain outmatched. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Royals were down 29-12. Coach Schmidt corralled the boys and said, "Now I know how Dennis Green felt last week against the New York Giants."

The third quarter proved to be more of the same. There's conflicting opinions as to just how big the Minneapolis lead was in the third quarter. The game seemed out of hand so on one seemed to pay close attention, but most speculate that it was "20 something."

Part way through the third quarter, the Royals simultaneously implemented an old fasioned "Mike O'Brien" full court diamond press on the inbound, combined with a man-to-man full court press on rebounds. It was working, but it seemed too little, too late. By the end of the third quarter, the team had only cut the lead to 18 points, 39-21. In eighth grade, this is a huge margin.

What transpired next had Watertown fans wondering if they had just witnessed, first-hand, "divine intervention." After being completely dominated for three quarters, the Royals proceeded to score at will in the fourth.

With approximately one minute remaining and the score at 49-47, the Minneapolis coach received a technical foul. Robert Schmidt stepped up and made both free throws, to tie the game at 49.

Then, with less than 10 seconds remaining, Minneapolis cut short the Royals' hopes of a comeback and scored again, to pull ahead 51-49.

With three seconds remaining, Schmidt snuck in two more points before the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

The lid dropped on both baskets in overtime, as each team watched their shots hopelessly roll around and then, off the rim.

With nine seconds remaining, Gus "Fast Break" Beckstrom hit Adam "Let Me At Em" Lukes down low. Lukes hit a picture-perfect turn around jumper to give the Royals their first lead of the game.

During the nine seconds that remained, the opposing team threw a full court pass to what appeared to be a wide-open Minneapolis player. Out of nowhere, Nick Olson picked off the pass and tossed it high into the air, back towards the Royals' basket at the other end of the court.

The Royals and their fans watched in amazement, waiting for the ball to come down, as time ticked slowly off the clock. The ball eventually landed, the horn blew, and the scoreboard read Royals 53, Minneapolis South 51.

Coach Schmidt and Coach O'Brien had a hard time believing the scoreboard. Both coaches felt as though they had just been unwilling participants in a "Twilight Zone" episode versus being observers at an 8th grade basketball game.

The same team that averaged only 7 points a quarter for the first three quarters outscored their opponents 30-12 in the remaining six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Game one stats

Versus Orono, eight of the nine players scored. Jared "Three Point" Scheppers and Andy "Sure Shot" McKenzie had the hot hand from the three-point range. Ryan "Out Of My Way" Jopp tallied 10 points and picked up some key rebounds, while Beckstrom added 8 points for the team. Olson and Justin O'Brien had complete games, adding some tough defense, rebounds, and steals to their stellar offensive contributions.

Game two stats

Against Armstrong, all nine Royals scored. O'Brien, Lukes, and Jopp dominated the rebounding in addition to some offensive scoring. McKenzie was hot, scoring 6 points in one quarter, while Scheppers added another 4. In addition to quarterbacking the club, Matt Gross added 3 three-pointers and finished with 13 points for the game.

Three of the teams centers/forwards got the opportunity to come out from underneath the basket as they took turns playing point guard for the entire fourth quarter. It wasn't always pretty, but overall, they did a goodjob bringing the ball up the floor.

Championship game stats

Beckstrom missed most of the first half of this game because he was still at church. In hindsight, we wonder if this may have paved the way for the much-needed "divine intervention" the team received in the fourth quarter to pull off the win.

Schmidt hit 4 three-pointers and finished with 34 points in the final game, 19 of these came in the last five minutes. Schmidt tallied 65 points for the tourney.

Beckstrom, Schmidt, and Gross combined for 4 key three-pointers at the tail end of the game to bring the team within striking distance. The team also, finally, found Olson at his "hot spot" on the floor late in the fourth quarter. Gross finished the game with 10 points, which brought his tournament total to 31.

It took the entire team to keep everyone fresh enough for the press to be effective. The comeback was a complete effort by each player on the roster.

Parting thoughts

There's a couple of other "Berra quotes" that came to mind as I reflected on the championship game from my "armchair quarterback" recliner.

The first was "Little League is a good thing 'cause it keeps parents off the streets and the kids out of the house." The gym was full of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little brothers, and big sisters ­ the most the team has seen in the stands to date for the eighth grade games.

And the second "Berra quote" was, "Ninety percent of the putts that fall short, don't go in." In the fourth quarter, it seemed like 100 percent of the shots that went up, went in. It was amazing.

In the nine years that Coach O'Brien and myself have had the privilege of coaching this group, we've never been a part of anything quite like this ­ "youth basketball sprinkled with a little touch of magic."

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