Eagles set sights on conference titleThe Solon Springs boys took their first step Friday night with a 59-50 victory at home over the Washburn Castleguards. Washburn handed the Eagles a 12-point loss when the two teams met at the start of the season.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Indianhead Conference title is still in sight for the Solon Springs boys basketball team, but the Eagles have a difficult schedule ahead to claim the crown.
The Solon Springs boys took their first step Friday night with a 59-50 victory at home over the Washburn Castleguards. Washburn handed the Eagles a 12-point loss when the two teams met at the start of the season.
“Tonight was the test to see if we were for real,” said Dale Rajala, Solon Springs head coach. “We came up against a powerhouse that we haven’t beaten in a very long time, and we we’re going to find out what we were made of. The guys really wanted it and they came through for us.”
Solon Springs is currently at 14-2 overall and 10-2 in the Indianhead Conference. Drummond (15-2, 12-1) and Hurley (12-4, 10-1) are the only teams in the conference with better records. The Eagles have yet to face Hurley this season but will play the Midgets on the road Feb. 16. Solon Springs then travels to Drummond Feb. 21 for a rematch with the Lumberjacks. The Eagles defeated Drummond 39-34 when the two teams played in Solon Springs earlier this season.
“The seniors are taking this team over like they should,” Rajala said. “There’s way more communication on the floor, they’re being patient with the younger guys — they’re bringing them right along — and that’s what it’s going to take to get us well into the playoffs and to get us to where we need to be at the end of the season.”
On Friday, Solon Springs took the lead over Washburn before any time had even ticked off the clock when the Castleguards were charged with a technical foul for having an incorrect lineup on the floor. Phil Larson sunk both foul shots for the Eagles, and Solon Springs took possession to begin the game.
Kyle Vandenberghe wasted no time adding to the Eagles’ lead as he got the ball inside and spun to the hoop to make it 4-0 Solon Springs just 12 seconds into the game.
Washburn answered with two shots in the paint in the next two minutes to tie the game and took a 6-4 lead on a basket by Jacob Tomlinson. The two teams then traded baskets to a 12-12 tie, with Larson scoring six straight points and Vandenberghe adding a basket in the post.
The Castleguards took a 15-12 lead on a 3-pointer from Cody Tomlinson, but that would turn out to be Washburn’s final lead of the game.
With 1:51 left in the first quarter, Vandenberghe brought the Eagles within one when he took a sharp entry pass from Larson, drew the foul and made both free throws. Trent Wester and Corey Utyro then hounded the Castleguards near midcourt to force an over-and-back call, and on the next possession Larson put the Eagles back in front with a steal and layup.
Cody Utyro finished off the quarter by cutting inside and taking a pass for a layup and the 18-15 lead.
Larson scored 10 points in the first quarter, including eight of the first 10 for Solon Springs.
“Philip Larson is a really good player, and he’s the focal point of their team,” said Duane Gasperini, Washburn head coach.
Washburn put additional pressure on Larson in the second quarter, but when the Castleguards focused on stopping him, the rest of the Eagles stepped up.
Solon Springs scored the first five points of the second quarter to extend its lead to eight. Washburn came back to make it a three-point game with 1:15 left before halftime, but Cody Utyro’s 3-pointer and put-back at the buzzer left Solon Springs up 34-28.
The Eagles struggled in the early part of third quarter as they watched an eight-point lead shrink to two, and both the Eagles and Castleguards missed some good looks before Vandenberghe broke the lull with a basket inside. Tyler Long then gave the Eagles a boost heading into the final quarter when he grabbed an offensive rebound and put it in off the glass with one second left on the clock.
Long came through again with a steal to start the fourth quarter, and the Eagles stifled Washburn on defense to build a 48-38 lead.
Tyler Vernon knocked down two 3-pointers in the last three minutes of play and Cody Tomlinson added another, but the Eagles kept pace with four field goals during that span — all assisted — to win 59-50.
“I was pretty proud of my kids. We were playing short-handed and had a limited bench,” Gasperini said. “I thought that they battled hard. Mental mistakes are still costing us, but they played hard.
“They (Solon Springs) got a few more loose balls than we did and converted on some second-chance points, and that hurt us. We got in a little foul trouble too, and when you’ve got a limited bench that hurts.”
Robert Wilkins and Cody Tomlinson both had 14 points to lead the Castleguards.
Vandenberghe led the Eagles with 20 points, followed by Larson with 16 and Cody Utyro with 14. Long added five points, and Corey Utyro and Daniel Gengenbach had two apiece.
Larson had another perfect game from the free-throw line, going 8-for-8, and the Eagles shot 16-for-20 as a team. Washburn finished 3-for-5 on free throws.
“We’re a totally different them than when we played them (last),” Rajala said. “We’re balanced. Before we had a couple of guys that were ready, and now the rest of the guys have caught up and we’ve got more balance. Our inside game has improved, our outside game has been steady all year, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Solon Springs played Shell Lake in a non-conference game Tuesday night. The Eagles are back in action Friday with a road game against Bayfield.
NOTES: The Eagles are short two players as both Mac Ohm and Trey Scheldroup are out with wrist injuries. Ohm has been sidelined since the start of the season with a broken wrist, and Scheldroup injured his right wrist in the Eagles’ Jan. 20 game against Ironwood.
“We might get Mac Ohm back for the first time this year,” Rajala said. “He (was) going in on Monday to get it checked out, and hopefully we’ll have him ready for Friday night.”
Scheldroup was also scheduled to have the ligaments in his wrist checked this week, but Rajala said his recovery will probably take longer. “He’s shooting left-handed now, so he wants to get out there,” Rajala said.
Solon Springs 18 16 10 15 — 59
Washburn 15 13 10 12 — 50
Solon Springs — Kyle Vandenberghe 20, Phil Larson 16, Cody Utyro 14, Tyler Long 5, Corey Utyro 2, Daniel Gengenbach 2. 3-point goals — Cody Utyro.
Washburn — Robert Wilkins 14, Cody Tomlinson 14, Tyler Vernon 8, Jacob Tomlinson 8, Josh Truchon 6. 3-point goals — C. Tomlinson 3, Vernon 2.