The Somerset boys basketball team earned its second straight regional championship on Saturday.
Now the Spartans are hoping to improve on last year's finish, when they were defeated in the WIAA Division 3 sectional championship game.
The next step for the Spartans is the Division 3 sectional semifinals. The Spartans will face Barron in that game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Thursday at New Richmond High School. The winner of that game will advance to the sectional championship game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Saturday at River Falls High School. The other sectional semifinal game will be played on Thursday between La Crosse Aquinas and Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau.
Somerset qualified for the sectional tournament by defeating Spooner and Hayward over the weekend. The Spartans pummeled Spooner on Friday 68-40. The Spartans earned the regional championship with a 52-37 win over Hayward on Saturday.
The weekend started with Somerset's defense dominating the game against Spooner. Somerset's full-court pressure completely choked off Spooner's offense. By halftime Somerset had rolled up a 41-18 lead.
Leading the first half onslaught was Spartan senior guard Tyler Ledbeter. Ledbeter went 8-8 from the field, scoring all 17 of his points in the first half. Several of his scores were the direct result of steals from the press, the others came on strong drives into the paint.
Somerset guard Jack Emmert came out red-hot in the third period, scoring nine of his 17 points.
The Spartans led 61-33 after three quarters. With the sizeable lead, Somerset coach Brent Larson rested his starters for the entire fourth quarter. Hayward won its game on Friday 33-30 over Northwestern. By resting the starters, Larson was hoping his team would be fresher than their opponents on Saturday.
It didn't start out that way, however. Hayward led 9-7 after the first quarter as Hayward broke the Spartans' press with more ease than most teams have this season.
Recognizing that the press wasn't getting its usual results, the Spartans upped the pressure with their half-court defense. It ended up being the big difference in the game. The Spartans were able to force Hayward into 30 turnovers.
When the Spartan offense struggled early in the game, Zack Waalen, Luke Praschak and Reggie Larson hit key shots that kept the Spartans in contention. By halftime the Spartans pulled ahead 24-17.
In the second half the Spartans got Emmert and Gaelin Elmore more involved in the offense and the lead expanded quickly. Emmert scored all eight of his points in the third quarter. Elmore scored eight points in the third quarter and seven more in the fourth to finish with a game-high 20 points. At the end of the third quarter the Spartan lead stood at 44-23.
Coach Larson said he saw a number of good things Saturday, though he's concerned about Saturday's slow start.
"If we lose our focus in the first quarter, we could be in trouble," he said.
The Spartans (19-4) lost to Barron earlier this season by 21 points. Larson said the coaching staff has been looking for ways they can defend Barron better than the first meeting. He said the offense will also have to make better reads to find the shots that Barron isn't contesting.