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Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00

State memories: Elkhorn boys nearly pulled off a state three-peat

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Members of the 1978 Elkhorn boys basketball Class B state title team included, back from left, assistant coach Jerry Nettesheim, Bill Morrissey, Joe Breidenbach, Mark Bourenske, Darrin Davey, Bart Brellenthin, Joe O’Connor, Tom Wales, Scott Jones and coach Fred Suchy. Middle from the left, Jeff Anderson, Kevin Slattery, Dave Opitz, Bob Hann, Mike Mol, Fred Suchy Jr. and Neil Watson. About 10 members of the 1978-’79 teams are expected to participate in a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Monday, March 10, at Elkhorn Area Middle School. Members of the 1978 Elkhorn boys basketball Class B state title team included, back from left, assistant coach Jerry Nettesheim, Bill Morrissey, Joe Breidenbach, Mark Bourenske, Darrin Davey, Bart Brellenthin, Joe O’Connor, Tom Wales, Scott Jones and coach Fred Suchy. Middle from the left, Jeff Anderson, Kevin Slattery, Dave Opitz, Bob Hann, Mike Mol, Fred Suchy Jr. and Neil Watson. About 10 members of the 1978-’79 teams are expected to participate in a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Monday, March 10, at Elkhorn Area Middle School. Photo courtesy of Darrin Davey

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The details may become a little fuzzier every year, but the stories get better with each telling. And what they accomplished never loses its luster.

Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-WalworthCountySunday

Every state has experienced its high school version of March Madness -- first coined in Illinois in 1939. Wisconsin has enjoyed that postseason euphoria since the initial WIAA boys state basketball tournament in 1916, and Stateline area teams have helped create that illustrious history, one that will add more nostalgia this coming weekend in Madison.

Elkhorn wrote the bulk of its chapter under legendary Hall of Fame coach Fred Suchy from 1978 to 1980, winning the Class B title the first two years before falling to Wautoma in its attempt at a three-peat.

Darrin Davey at point guard and Fred Suchy Jr. at wing/forward were seniors on the 1978 squad, while Jeff Anderson, another forward, was a starter on both trophy-winning squads.

They agreed there is nothing like playing for and winning the gold ball. However, they said dramatic wins in regionals and sectionals often created more lasting memories than actually lifting the ultimate hardware.

“We had lots of good coaches and players at that time … playing teams like Whitewater and Delavan provided us with good competition during the year, and it didn’t get any easier in our regional,” said Davey, a left-handed playmaker who formed an explosive outside-inside combination with Bob Hann. “That ’78 team, we lost two close games to Whitewater during the regular season, but then we beat them (in the second round). And then the wild, crazy sectional final against Mayville. That was such a grueling game … so many times we thought we had it won and then thought we had lost it.”

Davey was referring to the 69-65 triple overtime victory that ended Suchy’s 29-year drought of not getting to state -- he also reached 400 wins late that year.

The Elks pulled out to a 10-point halftime lead, only to see Mayville storm back and end regulation tied at 57. Elkhorn needed last-second heroics in the first two extra periods before scoring the only four points in the third OT on Suchy Jr.’s bucket and Davey’s two free throws. Hann finished with 27 points and Davey was right behind with 26.

“The thing about it, in those days it was a war in our conference, and our regional and sectional were so tough,” Anderson said. “Whitewater had a lot of size and had three Division I athletes. And the crazy things that happened in the Mayville game. So it was kind of odd at state because of what we had gone through.”

Elkhorn controlled Wisconsin Dells, 64-55, and then whipped Park Falls, 81-53, the largest victory margin in a state title contest until Randolph (2006) and Germantown (2013) surpassed it.

Suchy Jr. concurred that getting to the ’78 finale proved more difficult than winning it, but accomplishing the latter certainly ended a lot of postseason frustration.

“The competition in the Southern Lakes was really, really tough … half of the schools were in Class B and the others in Class A,” he said. “So we were used to playing against bigger schools and athletic competition. And dad always had us play better nonconference teams like Kenosha Bradford and Tremper, and we had good scrimmages during the Christmas break against Bernie Barkin’s Beloit (Memorial) team, which also went to state that year. But before that it always seemed like we were on the short end of the stick.”

“Elkhorn had so many good players but could never get over the hump and get to state,” Davey said. “So the fact Elkhorn finally had gotten there, that was what made the Mayville win so big. I think everybody relaxed, and we played well (at state).”

Anderson and the other returning Elks liked the experience so much they made it two in a row. However, the second journey featured many more potholes along the way as they needed the 79-66 finals win to get above .500 at 13-12, the most losses ever by a state champion.

“We had to overcome some injuries early that year,” Anderson said. “We knew we had to put a string together and pretty much run the table, and I believe we won seven straight games to get the state title. But Coach Suchy always made adjustments after Christmas and let guys play their way in or out of the lineup, and we started developing that good chemistry and playing better.”

That they did, culminating it with their 13-point decision over Prairie du Chien. The 1980 Elks made the Final Four again, succumbing to Wautoma, 56-46, to finish 18-7.

“You never realize these things when you’re a kid, but the older I get the more fortunate I feel about what we did back then,” Anderson said.

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