The season got off to a rocky start for the St. Thomas More boys' basketball team, as a proud program with a younger than normal roster found itself beginning 1-6.
Lately, it's looking like old times at STM.
The Cavs won their fifth straight game and are back to .500 on the season, with a convincing 65-40 win over Spearfish Tuesday night at the STM gymnasium.
"We came out strong, kind of got tired and let off a little bit, but in the second half I think we came out strong again," STM guard Ryder Kirsch said. "I think our effort was really good, and we played really well as a team."
Kirsch finished with 16 points and teammate Caden Casey led all scorers with 17.
"The Cavaliers were more poised. This is a Spartans team that has taken steps forward each and every week, and we took a step back tonight," Spearfish coach Erik Skoglund said. "We did not have the intensity, we did not have the focus. We need to tip our cap to the Cavaliers as they took it to us on rivalry night."
Lorenzio Tobar led Spearfish with 13 points, while Brady Greger added 11.
STM got off to a hot start, as two 3-pointers from Casey put STM up big in the first quarter, 11-2.
The Spartans would continue to claw for the rest of the first half. At the end of the first quarter the score was 18-10, and in the second quarter Spearfish made its move.
After scoring the first basket, the Cavs went cold from the field and the Spartans pounced to tie the game by the final minutes of the quarter.
The Cavs would score five before the break, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Casey to make it 25-20 going into the locker room.
The second half is where the new maturity that has been missing from the young STM team came out in full force.
"The big thing is we needed to get our energy level up because they were playing harder than us," Cavaliers coach Dave Hollenbeck said. "They were beating us to the 50-50 balls, and we didn't defend very well. We were fouling, so we just needed to move our feet a little better and keep our hands off them."
It was Spearfish that caught the foul bug in the second half, as STM was in the bonus before the third quarter was over.
The Cavs jumped out a 10-point lead before a technical foul called on Dawson Sundsted led to free throws for STM with 5:22 to go in the third. Once the Cavalivers got the lead to double digits, they never looked back.
"A lot of guys, a lot of fans were really excited for this game, and we didn't have our best effort. Congrats to the Cavaliers who buried us tonight," Skoglund said. "We have had outstanding preparation in practice, games and having solid outings. We have to take a step back and realize these are high school kids, these are boys playing basketball."
At the end of the third, STM led 44-29, and the fourth quarter wouldn't be kind to Spearfish either.
The Cavs outscored the Spartans 21-11 in the final frame.
"We did a good job in the second half not giving them any second shots, and we did a good job of that in the second half because they feed off those second or third opportunities, and typically they score when you give them second or third opportunities," Hollenbeck said. "I thought our guys did a pretty good job of taking care of the ball in the second half as opposed to the first half."
The Cavs haven't just been winning during this streak, many of the wins have been blowouts, winning games by an average of 19.6 points and giving up only 39.6 points per game on defense.
Hollenbeck said the second-half performance of his team is also a sign that they are growing up as the season goes on, as they withstood the best punch thrown by Spearfish and came back to win convincingly.
"I was pleased that Spearfish came at us hard in the second quarter. They did a nice job and had us back on our heels, and I was proud of the guys for coming back out in the third quarter and getting back to what we need to do," he said. "With that, you hope we're getting a little mentally tougher, so we can get through those runs where we're struggling.
"I think we're starting to mature a little more, and I hope we're getting a little bit tougher."
Kirsch said the team is a fun one to be on and that has helped contribute to the wins.
"We're all working really well as a team and the pieces are starting to come together," he said. "We just all have a lot of fun together, they're fun guys to be around."
The Cavs (6-6) take on Sturgis (9-3) at home Thursday while Spearfish (4-8) welcomes the three-time defending North Dakota state champions from Minot to Spearfish.