De Smet wins historic third straight boys basketball title
The last time a Class B school won three straight boys state basketball titles, it was Webster in 1946-1948, and that was under the umbrella of the two-class system. Fast-forward to today and De Smet can celebrate the same feat, in the three-class system, as the Bulldogs defeated Lower Brule 62-48 for the title.
“It’s fun that we’re able to talk about that, but just this group of guys, so special that they had that little bit of weight on their shoulders, you’ve been here, but now you’re new guys, can you go do that, and they got it done,” said De Smet head coach Jeff Gruenhagen.
A year ago, De Smet was the clear-cut favorite by most to win it. After all, they won it in 2021 and had most of their key players back. But this year, they came into the season without some of those highly touted players from the previous run – Rett Osthus and Kalen Garry just to name a few.
Coach Gruenhagen did admit that this year’s title felt different than the past two.
“There were maybe some more questions marks, whereas last year was “hey, you guys should just get there and do that, you’ve done it before.” This year is so special, because the juniors and seniors here are the class we started with as third and fourth graders,” Gruenhagen explained. “Coaching with my own son here tonight, starting for us out there, and playing in a state championship is awesome.”
Saturday night’s ‘B’ championship in Aberdeen was a rematch from last year. While De Smet did lose some key players from the year prior, Lower Brule had a lot of their players coming back. But once again, late in the game, much like 2022, the Bulldogs found a way to pull away, slightly, in the scoring column.
De Smet was led by senior Damon Wilkinson who tallied 18-points and 20-rebounds in the contest. The only time Wilkinson ever came out of a game over the three-day event was for a few seconds on Saturday night after getting shaken up. Wilkinson mentioned solid defense as the key to De Smet having success in the tournament.
“Just to come back and play defense on them. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew we had to play four quarters to win the basketball game,” said Wilkinson. “We started off slow against Viborg-Hurley, kept playing defense and turned our defense into offense. Kept playing good defense against Aberdeen Christian. That was the lowest game we held them to, lowest score they’ve had all year, and then just tonight too. That’s a really good scoring team and they only had 48-points.”
Tom Aughenbaugh also showed up big in the scoring column with 16-points for the Bulldogs. On the flip side, Lower Brule was led by a trio of senior leaders – Brian LaRoche Jr, Gavin Thigh, and EJ Langdeau. Together, the three had 41 of the Sioux’s 48 points.
De Smet will graduate three seniors this spring.
Dakota Valley and Yankton won the other two boys basketball titles on Saturday night. For the Panthers, it was their second straight title in ‘A,’ which also includes a total win streak of 53 games going into next season. And for Yankton, it was the Bucks 11th state title and their first since 2018.