By Chet Piotrowski
Cooper Bergstrom led his teammates in giving Mattoon varsity head basketball coach Ryan Ghere the only present he wanted for his birthday – a win.
Bergstrom scored a game-high 20 points as the Green Wave defeated Mahomet-Seymour 55-45 in a home Apollo Conference game Thursday evening.
“That’s all I wanted,” Ghere said. “All I wanted to do was to win today. We’ve had a great day so far.”
Mattoon looked energized, something that’s been visibly missing, in taking a seven-point lead into halftime while the Green Wave’s zone defense sprung to life.
“The fans – the fans are a big part of that,” Bergstrom said. “It’s always fun to play in front of them especially when we get big buckets. They’re going to go crazy.”
Ghere was excited to see his “old” defense again.
“I thought our defense was good tonight, finally,” Ghere said. “We kind of have taken our defense off the last three weeks. Today, we looked like the Green Wave of old – before Christmas break before the COVID issues and the other issues.”
The Bulldogs chipped away at the Green Wave’s 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Jaylen Middleton led a defensive effort that countered with three key blocks that slowed a surge that enabled Mahomet to outscore Mattoon 17-12 in the final quarter.
“It’s feels good,” Bergstrom said. “We’re just trying to get stops on defense. That’s the biggest part for us is getting stops, buckets and taking care of the ball.”
Wins have been scarce for the Green Wave, who won for just for the second time in a month, and only twice while adjusting to playing without senior center Sam Bradford.
“It’s definitely a different game without him in there and totally different offense with it,” Bergstrom said. “We just have to focus on moving the ball and working it and taking good shots.”
Bergstrom said the team needs to focus more on transitioning without their center.
“We have to get ball up the court and moving it on the outside and making sure the ball doesn’t get stagnant,” he said. “And we still have to try to get the ball inside without him.”
Mattoon’s Taerik Grace, who finished with seven points, helped stop the Bulldogs comeback attempt by taking a charge three feet from the bucket with about a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Christian Larson made all six of his free-throw attempts in the final minutes while MHS hit eight in a row.
“I’m proud of the boys,” Ghere said. “They battled. We built it up to 17-point lead and then shot ourselves in the foot there in the fourth quarter. We hung and on and made the last eight free throws in a row to hang on and pull away. We had big stops down the stretch and big free throws down the stretch.”
After the game, the team and student section sang “Happy Birthday” to Ghere, replete with cupcakes and wishes.
By then, the coach, though, had already received his gift.
MATTOON – Bergstrom 7 4-6 20, Middleton 2 1-4 5, Powers 3 2-2 9, Larson 2 6-6 11, Thompson 1 0-0 3, Grace 2 3-6 7. Totals 17 16-24 55. 3-pointers: Bergstrom 2, Powers 1, Larson 1, Thompson 1.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR – Dyer 1 0-0 2, Waldringer 3 2-2 11, Wagner 3 1-1 7, Eisenmann 1 1-2 3, Wolters 5 1-2 13, Selk 4 1-3 9. Totals: 17 6-10 45. 3-pointers: Waldringer 3, Wolters 2.