Eagle boys lose to MellenSolon Springs nearly upsets conference frontrunner
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The gym at Solon Springs School is a difficult place to play — at least for visiting teams.
The Eagle boys reinforced that fact Monday when they hosted the Mellen Granite Diggers and lost a closely contested game, 50-47.
When the two teams played at Mellen earlier this season, the Granite Diggers won 66-28.
“They just played a lot better here,” said Mellen coach Don Moreland. “And they have been recently because they’ve been beating some teams they haven’t been beating on the road.”
Before Monday’s game with Mellen, Solon Springs (6-9, 5-7) had won four straight home games, including a four-point victory over Ironwood Jan. 7 and a 10-point victory over Bayfield Jan. 25. Both Ironwood and Bayfield sit near the top of the Indianhead Conference standings, with Mellen (13-2, 9-2) leading the way.
Moreland said playing at the Solon Springs gym requires an adjustment from players. The facility’s dark floor and soft lighting create an unusual atmosphere, but an even bigger challenge to overcome is traveling distance.
“It’s a long ride for everybody, just like they have a long ride to everybody else,” Moreland said. “So it’s tough for them to win on the road, and it’s tough for other teams to win here.”
The Solon Springs boys nearly pulled off another upset on their home court Monday. The Eagles led for much of the game before succumbing to foul trouble in the fourth quarter.
“The team has grown immensely,” said Eagles coach Dale Rajala. “They blew us out by 40 points the last time we played them, and we were definitely ready for them this time around.”
Patience was key for Solon Springs at the start of Monday’s game. After winning the tip, the Eagles took 30 seconds off the clock looking for their ideal shot. They settled for an open 3-pointer that rimmed out, and Mellen quickly pushed the ball up the floor. The Granite Diggers couldn’t get their shot inside to fall, and on its ensuing possession Solon Springs again passed the ball around to slow the pace of the game.
“We wanted to come out and attack their defense and be more patient with our offensive transition,” Rajala said. “We needed to pass the ball instead of dribble to move them around, and I thought we did very well with being patient on offense.”
The game was tied three times in the first quarter before Mellen’s Cody Nordby made a pair of free throws and Austin Warren sunk a 3-pointer to lead 12-7. The Eagles cut the lead to 12-8 on a Phil Larson free throw and then started the second quarter with a long 2-pointer from Cody Utyro to make it 12-10.
Trey Scheldroup tied the game for Solon Springs with a layup at 6:36, and the Eagles continued their hot streak from there, going on a 9-1 run to lead 21-13.
For the quarter, Solon Springs outscored Mellen 14-4. Devon Young had the Granite Diggers’ only field goal of the period, a 3-pointer with 17 seconds to play, and also added one free throw. Mellen was 1-for-6 from the line for the quarter.
In the second half Mellen rebounded with a strong start to the third quarter to move within four. Larson kept Solon Springs in front with a layup off a block by Cole Klinzing, but the Granite Diggers slowly edged back to make it 35-34 at the end of the third quarter.
Rajala said the game started to unravel for the Eagles when they rushed their shots on offense and began playing a faster game more suited to Mellen’s strengths.
“We can’t get into a track race with them,” Rajala said. “We needed to take care of our possessions, and that got away from us a little bit.”
Compounding Solon Springs’ troubles were fouls. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Eagles had eight team fouls to just two for Mellen. The Eagles picked up their 10th team foul on a charging call at 6:48, and Mellen played in the double bonus the rest of the game.
“When we give them a double bonus in both halves, it’s free points,” Rajala said. “We have to learn to stay low, dig down and help each other out; we’ve got to stop the reaching and bailing teams out by getting them to the line.”
Mellen benefitted little from Solon Springs’ foul trouble in the fourth quarter, however, making just 4-of-10 free throws in the last six minutes and shooting less than 50 percent for the game.
“If we make our free throws, we win by a lot more than we did,” Moreland said. “We kept them in it by missing our free throws.”
Because of Mellen’s poor free throw shooting, Solon Springs had a chance to tie the game with 9.6 seconds remaining. The Eagles got off a 3-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime, but the shot wouldn’t fall. Solon Springs had one last chance for a desperation shot with a fraction of a second remaining, but that attempt too was no good as Mellen won 50-47.
“This team has more heart than most teams I’ve seen here in Solon,” Rajala said. “This team never quits; they don’t have an ounce of quit in them. They will fight to the very end, and they’re starting to come together at the right time. They’re starting to trust each other.
“The guys are upset, but they know they’re very, very close to becoming an extremely dangerous team.”
Larson had 16 points to lead Solon Springs, while Utyro and Klinzing both added nine. Jake Dahlberg added six; Kyle Vandenberghe, Scheldroup and Danny Kallberg scored two apiece; and Tyler Long added a free throw.
Young led Mellen with 17 points, and James Huber added 12.