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Bridgewater, Emery communities celebrate together

Bridgewater-Emery fans cheer on the Huskies during the Class B state championship against Wolsey-Wessington on Saturday at the Wachs Arena in Aberdeen. (Matt Gade / Republic)

EMERY—"Relentless," "fearless" and "hard-working" were a few of the adjectives used to describe the Bridgewater-Emery boys basketball team during the team's welcome home celebration.

Community members of both Bridgewater and Emery, young and old, filled the Emery gymnasium Sunday afternoon to celebrate the Huskies' first boys basketball state championship. Bridgewater-Emery claimed the Class B state title with a 63-58 victory over Wolsey-Wessington on Saturday night in Aberdeen.

The win capped off a perfect 26-win season for the Huskies, who gutted out back-to-back narrow wins in the state tournament semifinal and championship games.

For some community members like former Emery boys basketball head coach Joe Schlimgen, Sunday's celebration was more than 44 years in the making. Schlimgen was the head coach the last time Emery won a boys basketball state championship in 1973, while Bridgewater had not won a boys basketball state title since 1961. Bridgewater and Emery consolidated in 2010 and this year was also the first time the team qualified for the state tournament.

"There wasn't much difference between the two teams," said Schlimgen, who joked the Huskies better win the state title again next year because he can't wait another 44 years. "We could play defense, very good fundamentally, we didn't make mistakes and we shot well."

Schlimgen didn't make the journey to Aberdeen to watch the team play, but followed along by watching and listening to the state tournament games on TV and radio.

"I was a lot more nervous listening on TV than coaching," he said. "I'm sure coach (Scott) Schultz would say the same thing. He knows what his kids can do, and I knew what my kids could do."

For Bridgewater-Emery Superintendent Jason Bailey, who also served as the team's bus driver, the example the team has set for younger generations stands out the most.

"This group of boys is a good group of role models," Bailey said. "They are relentless, fearless and do anything you ask. The two communities have always come together and supported the team. We are so thankful for all that support and we'll continue to look for good things as we move forward."

For BE assistant coach Brad Bartscher, Saturday's win and Sunday's celebration marked the end of a long journey he's had with many of the team's players. Bartscher started a traveling basketball team with the team's three seniors—Sam Arend, Cade Schmitt and Colton Plagmann—as well as junior Cole Gassman when the boys were in elementary school.

"It was a dream come true for all of those kids I've coached," Bartscher said. "All the hard work paid off. They came together and finished it off. Every huddle that we had and every time out, they never once questioned each other."

Bartscher added the Bridgewater-Emery support from both communities throughout the season was tremendous, pointing to crowds during games this year at the Corn Palace in Mitchell and the crowd at the state tournament in Aberdeen.

"Great people in both communities and both love basketball," Bartscher said. "Both communities knew if we came together and worked together, good things were going to happen for our programs and our schools and it shows."

Also in attendance for the welcome home celebration was Centerville senior James Brown, who scored 25 points against the Huskies in his final home game on Feb. 13. Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, was given a piece of the state championship game net by the Huskies.