UNION MILLS -- Teams have to win to build a winning culture, but they don't know how to win without having that culture.
A year removed from a five-win season, Boone Grove finds itself in that transitional phase where success is in reach, it's just a matter of figuring out how to grab it.
"It seems like every game we stretch it out, we've got to make it close at the end," second-year Wolves coach Dean Hill said. "Rensselaer, we came back in the third quarter. I said it's a lot more fun coming back than having somebody sneaking up on you."
Saturday at South Central, BG nearly blew a 14-point lead late in the third quarter, seeing the margin dwindle to a scant point, then surviving a last-second Satellites shot at a game-winner to prevail 48-47 in SC's Winter Classic final.
"I think we're turning a corner, for sure, just being able to take a lead and maintain it," Boone junior Andrew Batesole said. "Even though we weren't able to (here) and it got close at the end, to be able to pull out a win like that, especially now, is huge. We're just starting to click. I think everyone's ready to take that step and be competitive in a lot of our games. I think we're really turning the corner as a team."
Saturday's escape gave the Wolves five wins, four straight since a 1-5 start, while matching last year's season total.
"We've been through the losses," Batesole said. "We started 1-5, it was like, oh, just like last year. I would say that our biggest problem last year was not everybody believing in everybody. I think everyone has that trust in each other, trust in what (Hill) gives us, and always having that person to go to, knowing they're going to make that shot is huge for everybody. I think being able to get back to that .500 mark is huge. It's going to be an exciting second half of the year."
Jack Stevens scored eight of his game-high 16 points in the third quarter, when Boone pushed the margin from two to 12.
"When we need a bucket, he's the guy," Batesole said.
Boone only had two of them in the fourth quarter, when it did just enough to hang on, despite missing four of its six free throws in the final 1:32.
"I think we were gassed offensively," Hill said. "We were getting good shot after good shot after good shot. The first half, I thought we should have been up 14, we just could not finish. I attribute it to the effort we had to put in to take care of North White."
South Central took a timeout at 0:07.1 with the ball in the front court, but Derek Welsh's contested baseline jumper from the left block fell short of the rim, the final and clinching defensive effort for the Wolves.
"I think we gave them a lot of trouble switching on the outside to prevent them from entering their offense," Hill said. "That's just scouting and hard work. Their understanding of what we were asking them to do was pretty good. They beat us to the basket a couple times when we should have been staying in front of guys, but that's tired legs, too. South Central guys play so hard, we were trying to keep (Jack Haschel) and (Noah Howard) from getting shots off. Welsh had a great game. He was going to the basket, too. We had to rotate guys on and off of him because we were so dead."
Haschel had 13 points and Welsh 11 for SC.
"I told our guys I thought we played great after we got down by 12," Satellites coach Matty Bush said. "Credit to Boone. They played well. They were switching, so eventually we switched to some more ball screen action. Maybe we could have done that earlier."
Though about a decade apart, Bush and Hill both were Porter County Conference standouts in their day. A three-sport star with the Wolves (football, basketball and baseball), Hill is piecing together a roster with a blend of athletic talent. Mark Rowland was the quarterback in football, Kam Dixon, a springy 6-3 rim protector and rebounder, is a dominant volleyball player and Batesole is a mainstay on BG's baseball team.
"Every single guy plays more than one sport," Hill said. "Half my golf squad's out there."
Stevens swung the club last spring but may switch to baseball or just focus on basketball.
"I'm doing more AAU," he said.
The 6-foot junior, whose dad, aunt and uncle starred at Lake Station, leads the Wolves, averaging over 16 points per game. He and Corey Noonan were the top returning scorers, both over 12 a game.
"Ww have more experience now," Stevens said. "Two years ago, we had all seniors, so no one really played varsity. That's why we weren't in the groove. Now we know what to do. We're a lot smarter and stronger."
Boone Grove won South Central's Winter Classic, edging the Satellites 48-47 on Saturday. The Wolves (5-5) have matched last season's win total. (Photo courtesy of Josh Russell)