ERSKINE, Minn.-For a change, Win-E-Mac has gotten a bit of a breather on the basketball court.
The Patriots breezed to wins by margins of more than 20 points in each of their last three boys high school basketball games. That isn't indicative of the season for Win-E-Mac.
"My assistant coach, Dave Kiecker, quite often tells me before games, 'You know this one is going right down to the end,' '' Patriots coach Vern Johnson said. "That's how our season has gone.''
Close has been the norm for the Patriots. They're 16-4 entering the weekend. The only teams in Section 8A with more wins are Cass Lake-Bena (22-1) and Ada-Borup/Norman County West (19-0).
Win-E-Mac's record is in part because of its success in tight games. Half of the Patriots' first 16 games were decided by less than than 10 points. Win-E-Mac is 6-2 in those nail-biters.
"There haven't been many games where you can sit back and relax. And I think that's all right,'' Johnson said. "It's better than getting beat bad night after night. It is stressful. But I think if you're successful in those games you gain confidence.''
The players have learned to enjoy the close games.
"It was nice to get a break,'' senior center Brekken Lindberg said. "But the close games are a lot more exciting, a lot more fun.
"It's really good for us to be in all those close games. Come playoff time, you expect close games. When you've played in those situations, you get more comfortable in them.''
The 6-foot-8 Lindgren and Gavin Walker pace the Patriots with averages of 12.5 and 11.8 points a game, respectively. Rounding out the starting five are Mason Spry, Bryer Strom and Joey Revier. Balance has been the key; five players have led the Patriots in scoring in at least one game.
Johnson said all the close games are a product of the Patriots' style.
Nine teams in 8A have better offensive scoring averages than Win-E-Mac's 59.4. But no team in the section is stingier at giving up points than the Patriots, with a 48.0 points-against average.
"We aren't explosive on offense,'' Johnson said. "We have to grind for our points. And we play good defense. The kids have taken defense to heart. They take pride in it. They're fairly athletic and we have some length.
"Having Brekken around the basket I think gives a lot of teams some uncertainty about going in there. He has a knack for picking and choosing when to block a shot.''
Johnson admits there is some luck involved in being 6-2 in close games, the results of which could go either way.
"Anybody who says you don't win those games with a little luck is fooling himself,'' Johnson said. But, he adds, "sometimes you make your own luck.''