Battle-tested Beulah ready for 'the B': No. 8 Miners feeling strong after early setbacks, eyeing state championship
Two years ago, Jeremy Brandt took a much different Beulah boys basketball team to the Class B state tournament.
Today, the head coach will walk into the Alerus Center in Grand Forks with a group confident that they'll leave the building Saturday clutching the state championship trophy.
"Our kids have some pretty high expectations," Brandt said. "I don't know that maybe, two years ago, that was necessarily the case. I think this group of guys is different. They do have high expectations going down there and thinking we can do some damage and stay in that championship round."
No. 8-ranked Beulah (22-3) plays Region 1 champion and No. 3-ranked Central Cass (25-0) at approximately 7:15 p.m. in the opening round of the state tournament.
Two years ago, a young Beulah squad shocked a highly ranked and experienced Dickinson Trinity team in the Region 7 championship to reach the state tournament. The Miners finished seventh at state that season.
Beulah senior Casey Duppong was a sophomore then. He hit a last-second, game-winning shot to win the region title.
Duppong said just reaching the tournament seemed like a prize in itself that season.
This time around, the Miners again beat Trinity in the region title game --then they went right back to work.
"Last time I don't think we really came (to the state tournament) that prepared," Duppong said. "This time, the reality of going to state set in a little quicker. We were able to come back to practice and go a little harder, a little faster."
Beulah entered the season as a popular pick to win the state championship.
Loaded with talented upperclassmen, the Miners were ranked No. 1 in The Hoopster preview magazine's preseason rankings, won their first seven games and held the top spot in the Class B poll for the first three weeks of the season before losing to North Star, the undefeated defending state champions who finished the regular season ranked No. 1.
The Miners had their stumbles after losing to North Star.
They fell to rivals Trinity and Hazen in the regular season, which made them the No. 3 seed in the District 14 tournament.
The Miners redeemed themselves by beating both teams twice each in the postseason, including No. 5-ranked Trinity in both the district and region championship games.
Now, Beulah sits just three wins from capturing its first title.
"I think our season has gone well," junior Trevor Zacher said. "There's some games we didn't expect to lose, but we learned from them."
While the Miners have thrived on balance, they also follow a trend that seems to have infiltrated basketball from the professional ranks on down.
Beulah has its own version of the Big 3:
n Zacher, a 6-foot-4 forward, leads the team with 16.1 points per game and chips in 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.1 assists a night. A sharpshooter from the perimeter, he has made 47 3-pointers and shoots 81 percent from the free-throw line.
n Duppong, a 6-2 guard, three-year starter and floor leader, averages 13.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.6 steals per game.
n Jesse Hettich, a 6-3 junior guard, averages 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 steals and 2.1 assists per game. He also has 32 blocks on the season.
Around them is a supporting cast that helped Beulah lead Region 7 in scoring with 72.4 points per game.
Junior guard Cody Nelson (7.8 points) and senior forward Tyler Murray (5.6 points and 3.8 rebounds) come off the bench. Junior forward Noah Iverson (5.4 points and 2.6 rebounds) and senior guard Tanner Dolbec (2.9 points and 1.8 assists) start and each do their part on a nightly basis.
When Duppong, Hettich or Zacher have had off nights, their teammates have been there to pick up the slack.
"It's really important, not only in games but in practices, because we have such a balanced team we get competitive every day in practice," Duppong said. "There's always someone to come off the bench if you're tired in the game. Whenever you have that balance, it's really nice."
Brandt and Zacher said the biggest key behind Beulah's surge to state was getting through the gauntlet that was Region 7.
"Our region is probably the toughest region in the state, overall," Zacher said. "Just getting out of it is hard. None of those games you knew you could just go in and play good enough to win. You had to play. You had to earn every point, everything."
Despite all the talk of winning a state title and the possibility of a championship-game rematch with North Star, the Miners must first find a way past Central Cass tonight in the state quarterfinals.
Zacher said he's just fired up to get back on the court.
"We don't really care who we play," Zacher said. "We just want to win, no matter who it's against."