For the Daily News
Top-seeded Altamont didn't necessarily set out to make a statement on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Nokomis Class 1A Regional.
The Indians just wanted to get off to a good start — something they'd struggled to do in recent games.
"We didn't want to come out flat," Altamont coach John Niebrugge said. "We wanted to come out and play a good first half. That was the goal that we talked about in practice — let's have a good start to the practice so that it will translate here in the game."
Did it ever.
The Indians (25-3) forced 10 first-quarter Beecher City turnovers on their way to an early 20-6 lead against their NTC rivals. Altamont never really let up, and in the process showed any skeptical onlookers in the hometown crowd why it earned a No. 1 seed over the host Redskins with an impressive 73-49 win.
Second-seeded St. Anthony (20-10) then re-enforced Nokomis' No. 3 seed by knocking off the Redskins (22-7) 48-35 in the night's second semifinal to set up an all-National Trail championship on Friday.
The key to Altamont's lopsided win was simple: turnovers, lots of turnovers. Beecher City (12-13) finished with 29 of them, and the Indians capitalized far more often than not.
"The first time we played them we got by with 28 and kept it close for 3 1/2 quarters," said Eagles coach Jason Eirhart of a relatively competitive 55-42 loss during the regular season. "I thought we'd matured a little bit since then.
"I don't know if it was the moment or the intensity, but we just got a little free with the ball. You turn the ball over against Altamont and you're going to pay for it. It's as simple as that."
The electric play of Indians guard Garrett Ziegler was also a huge difference-maker. Ziegler scored nine of his game-high 26 points in the first quarter and also grabbed four steals on the night. Altamont has proved pretty much unstoppable when Ziegler is on like he was Wednesday.
"He's starting to shoot the ball real well, which is scary," Niebrugge said. "Because if he's shooting the ball real well then he can get to the middle of the floor, and that just opens up his kickouts to Cole (Borders) and Griffin (Jackman)."
Beecher City actually scored the first two baskets of the game, but then turned it over on five straight possessions, fueling a 10-0 Indians run.
Altamont went on another 10-0 run after an Eagles basket, and Beecher City wound up with 17 turnovers and a 16-point deficit at halftime.
It was just the performance Niebrugge was hoping for in the opening 16 minutes.
"Really, since the NTC Tournament championship, our first halves have been bad," Niebrugge said. "Up at Riverton, we were down 15-4 in the first quarter to Pleasant Plains. We've had some bad first quarters of late. "
But we came out tonight and established our tempo — we like to get up and down — and we scored a lot of easy buckets in that first quarter."
Altamont actually saved its best effort for the third quarter, exploding for 23 points. Beecher City had 24 turnovers entering the final frame.
Jake Seidel flirted with a double-double for the Indians, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Niebrugge indicated his team had a sense of urgency prior to the game, and he lauded his squad for overcoming a mile second-quarter lull to put Beecher City away.
"I don't have to do a whole lot of talking anymore," Niebrugge said. "These seniors have sort of taken on that responsibility of what needs to be done. We adjusted again in that third and kind of took the wind out of their sails."
Senior Brady Barnes led Beecher City with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Beecher City 11 10 15 13 49
Altamont 21 14 23 15 73
Beecher City: Barnes 16, Giles 2, Kenter 5, Lagerhausen 6, Bales 7, Doty 7, Gardner 6
Altamont: Ziegler 26, McGinnis 8, Jackson 6, Borders 3, A.Goeckner 4, Armstrong 4, Seidel 13, Jahraus 5, Wolff 4