If the first eight games of the season were any indication, the Beulah boys basketball team was in for a long year after losing five seniors from a group that lost just once in 2012-13.
If the last 16 games were any indication, the Miners (19-5) have as good a chance of winning a state title as any of the other seven teams in the field. Beulah has won 16 straight and plays Region 4 champion North Star tonight at 8:15 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
The Miners started the season 3-5, opening the year on the wrong end of a 78-58 game against then-No. 9 Linton-HMB, the Region 3 champion. A decisive win against Center-Stanton was followed by three straight losses to Four Winds-Minnewaukan, Rugby and Des Lacs-Burlington, all of which ended the season ranked in the top seven.
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Beulah senior guard Cole Messerschmidt and the Miners enter the state tournament on a 16-game win streak. They play North Star tonight at 8:15 in the first round at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
"We try and travel around and play some of the better teams for the purpose of at the end of the year or later on in the year it's going to help us and we've already seen that in the win streak we've put together," Beulah coach Jeremy Brandt said. "It's not like we were losing to average teams. We were losing to good teams. Some of it was we weren't playing as well as we were capable of and some of it was the competition we were playing."
Brandt said the final straw was a 20-point loss to rival Hazen on Jan. 10. The loss dropped Beulah to 3-5, a far cry from last year's team that finished 24-1, but missed the state tournament. Instead of letting their season slip away, the Miners made some adjustments.
"We kind of got embarressed by Hazen the first time we played them and that was the last loss we took," Brandt said. "I think for our kids it was a combination of being embarressed and knowing they needed a change. Our defensive intensity and level of how hard we were playing picked up since then."
The Miners got revenge on the Bison twice, the second coming in the Region 7 championship.
During the win streak, Beulah is allowing 47 points per game compared to 63 in its first seven games. The Miners surrendered at least 65 points in all five losses. They allowed 65 points just twice the rest of the year.
"I didn't know if we were capable of (winning 16 in a row), especially when we were sitting at 3-5 at one time," Brandt said. "Defensively, we've improved so much. That's been the main difference. Our kids have made a committment that they're going to come out and defend and work on that end of the floor. Even on nights when we haven't shot it well, we've been consistent there and that's kind of carried us through the win streak."
Offensively, Beulah is well-balanced on the score sheet with guards Cole Messerschmidt and Jett Hettich and forwards Casey Walcker, Luke Blood and Randi Julson. The Miners average 65 points per game.
Beulah enters the state tournament with plenty of momentum, much like the Bearcats, who are fresh off a double-overtime victory against FW-M in the Region 4 championship. Brandt said the difference in the game could come down to how well the players control their nerves.
"For all the kids at the state tournament playing on that stage, it's about how quickly you can settle into that first game and get past those initial nerves," Brandt said. "That's important because you need to get off to a quick start when you're playing good teams."
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.