Cougars have found themselves on both sides of some absolute barnburners over the course of their past five games. Excluding a lone 50-26 blowout victory over West Liberty back on Dec. 21, four of those previous five have been decided by an average of just 2.75 points.

As far as 2018 was concerned, these close calls went exclusively in Cascade’s favor. In the final week of the year, the Cougars came out on top over Regina Iowa City, 61-58, and also defeated Anamosa, 48-44.

The new year brought the reversal of this trend, however, starting with a 44-41 loss to Monticello, Jan. 4. Even more frustrating for the Cougars (who went 6-2 in December) was their 38-37 loss at Durant the very next day.

Monticello (9-2) took off early en route to a 23-18 first-half lead over the Cougars. Cascade would go on to rally behind a super effort from senior Reid Rausch (17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five steals), outscoring the Panthers 23-21 in the second portion of the game. Unfortunately, the upset would be just out of reach as the final buzzer eventually silenced Cascade’s fleeting rally.

“It was an intense game in front of the largest crowd we’ve had all year. We came out and got in a bit of a hole early 10-3, and in a defensive struggle, we never could really climb all the way out,” Cougar head coach Jacob Brindle said. “Monticello, led by Justin Recker, a premier inside player in our league, and Tyler Luensman’s key three-pointers, kept their lead in the three-to-five point range. (Rausch’s three-pointer) got us to within 43-41 with under a minute left, and we had two shots at the tie down three, 44-41 in the last 15 seconds, but couldn’t quite get there. At the end of the day, we have to be able to step up and make big shots.”

Cougar senior Haris Hoffman brought nine points and three assists to the table and junior Carter Green added eight and three boards in the loss. Cascade (6-5) particularly struggled from downtown, making just 4-of-22 three-point attempts as a team.

Determined to make up for that loss the very next day, the boys scored the same amount of points in the first quarter (17) as Durant did in the entire first half. The Cougars came out of halftime with a 29-17 lead and a good chance to keep the momentum going.

Unfortunately for Cascade fans, their lineup seemed to have flattened out in the second half. Durant proceeded to hold the visitors to just three and five points in the final two quarters, while they put up 10 and 11 to snag the three-point win and snap their five-game losing streak from December.

Hoffman (10 points, seven rebounds) served as a bright spot in a gut-wrenching loss for his Cougars. Green nailed two of four team three-pointers and finished with nine total points. Rausch (seven rebounds, six steals, four points) did a little bit of everything, while junior Michael Trumm hit the floor in relief for the remaining two three-pointers and four assists.

Durant’s senior duo of Easton Botkins and Bryce Lafrenz scored 10 apiece, with the latter also adding seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Joe Lillienthal added a team-high eight boards.

Despite posting a handful of respectable numbers, Cascade could not escape the curse that was 15 team fouls. Durant (4-7) would convert on 7-of-15 free throw attempts and outrebound their guests, 24-21.

“This was a very difficult and disappointing loss to swallow, as it was entirely self-inflicted,” Brindle said. “We really wanted to start the game better than we did against Monticello, and bring great energy, and we did. We forced seven turnovers in the first quarter and led 17-6 after (the first quarter). Unfortunately, we would only score 13 points over the final 20 minutes. We failed to capitalize on two transition opportunities, followed by a few key turnovers and a pair of defensive lapses, and Durant was able to close the gap.”

In closing, Brindle offered the same advice he plans on giving the boys over the next several practices — and beyond, when applicable.

“We need to use this adversity to better understand how important fundamentals and attention to detail are, and that our margin of error is zero if we aren’t locked in and focus our competitive energy the entire game — both offensively and defensively. We simply have to continually focus on taking actions to ensure we improve and keep getting better,” Brindle said.