Winning ways turning SHS hockey fans on to basketballThe Superior boys basketball team has played second fiddle to the school’s hockey team for a long time.
By: By RICK WEEGMAN/Duluth News Tribune, The Daily Telegram
The Superior boys basketball team has played second fiddle to the school’s hockey team for a long time.
That happens when one team makes 26 state tournament appearances since the other’s last appearance, but this year’s basketball squad is making inroads in popularity levels.
“It’s known as a hockey town, but we want it to be a basketball town, too,” senior guard Dustin Ritchie said Tuesday after Superior improved to 10-1 with a 65-47 win over Duluth Central.
The Spartans are doing it in exciting fashion. They’ve won all five games decided by three points or less or in overtime.
“We have a lot of kids who don’t fold, who play to the last second,” SHS coach Dave Kontny said. “Each game it’s been somebody different, it hasn’t just been one guy.”
After opening the season with a loss to Eau Claire North, the Spartans have won 10 straight. Included in that run were back-to-back squeakers at the Barron Tournament — freshman Joel Lindberg’s tip-in at the buzzer beat Spooner 48-46, then a missed free throw with 4.8 seconds remaining led to a Joe Reichert fast-break layup to beat Barron 44-43 in double overtime.
Two games later, Keegan O’Neill fed Ritchie for a layup at the buzzer to beat Duluth East 73-72, and then the Spartans sweated out an overtime victory over Grand Rapids.
“We’ve been in that situation five times now and won by one or two points four of those five games,” said Ritchie, who averages a team-high 16.5 points per game and gave an oral commitment Tuesday night to attend Division III Wisconsin-Superior in the 2008-09 season. “We’re really calm in those situations, and we all trust each other that we’re going to make the right plays.”
The late-game heroics have boosted the Spartans’ confidence for the second half of the season.
“We know what to do to win, and maybe it’ll help us down the road,” said O’Neill, a senior guard, who is second in scoring at 11 points per game.
That’s long been the attitude of the hockey team, which has won a record 12 state championships and 54 tournament games.
The Spartans are 6-for-6 in reaching the state tournament since Jason Kalin took over as coach and, at 10-3 with seven straight wins, are on pace for another trip to Madison.
It’s that kind of tradition that Kontny hopes to revive in the basketball program. He may not be far off. Superior’s varsity was 20-3 a year ago, while the junior varsity is unbeaten the past two years.
“The attitude about winning is important. We’ve tried to establish that throughout our program,” Kontny said. “Winning breeds winning. … We’re hoping it continues.”
Superior reached the region final last season, losing a late five-point lead and falling, 50-45, to Wausau East. The Spartans would like to take it a step further this time.
“We had a sour taste in our mouths from last year; we let the game slip away,” Ritchie said. “All the guys here are determined. That’s the goal — to make it to state.”
SPARTAN SPIN: Superior is back in action at 3 p.m. Saturday at Eau Claire Memorial.