Eagles are five wins from school record
The success of the Eagles boys basketball team this season has generated great excitement in Solon Springs.
The school’s small gym is filled to capacity at home games, and young fans scrabble for autographs from their favorite players after each win.
In the Vandenberghe household, the team’s spotless 14-0 record has sparked a friendly wager.
The bet is between Adam Vandenberghe, who leads Solon Springs with an average of 21.2 points per game, and his older brother, Kyle.
Kyle Vandenberghe played for Eagles during the 2011-12 season — the last time Solon Springs advanced to the WIAA regional finals. The Eagles finished with 19 wins that season, which stands as the all-time school record.
“He bet we wouldn’t beat their 19-6 record, and I said I’ll take that bet,” said Adam Vandenberghe.
The Eagles inched closer to the school record Friday night with a 70-61 victory over the Mellen Granite Diggers. Vandenberghe finished with 24 points as Solon Springs improved to 10-0 in the Indianhead Conference.
Mellen (7-4, 6-4) entered the game sitting third in the conference standings.
Solon Springs led 32-22 at halftime and built a 16-point lead with 5:41 to play, but Mellen surged back to make it a two-possession game with about two minutes to play.
“You’ve got to be ready to play a full game against them. No lead is comfortable against Mellen,” said Dale Rajala, Solon Springs head coach. “They just keep coming at you every time. We know that, and we were ready for that.”
The Granite Diggers put up 16 points in just over three minutes to make it 65-61 with 2:16 to play.
Davin Stricker led Mellen’s charge with a pair of 3-pointers, a layup and 3-of-4 shooting at the free-throw line. Brady Mesko-Jokinen followed Stricker’s 11-point scoring spree with two free throws, and 20 seconds later Kaeden Jones hit his third 3-pointer of the night to cut the Eagles’ lead to 65-61.
Solon Springs scored almost all of its points at the free-throw line during Mellen’s run. Two Granite Diggers fouled out during the stretch, and the Eagles went 6-for-12 at the line.
In the closing minutes of the game the Eagles continued to take advantage of Mellen’s foul trouble, going 3-for-6 at the free throw-line and scoring from the baseline after grabbing the rebound on a missed free throw.
Mellen was held scoreless in the final two minutes.
“We had to slow the game down in our heads and get back on track,” said Vandenberghe, who scored the final five points for Solon Springs. “Every team is going to make their runs, and we’re going to make ours.”
Solon Springs had three big runs in the first half.
The Eagles began with a 6-0 run in the opening 1:32 of the game. Vandenberghe hit two free throws, Corey Pajtash made a jumper and Ian Klinzing scored in the post to spark the run.
The Eagles’ next hot streak came midway through the half, when they scored eight points in just over a minute to lead 17-9. Mellen rallied to cut the lead to 19-18 at 5:54, but Solon Springs closed out the half with a 13-4 spurt. The sequence included two free throws and a one-handed dunk from Vandenberghe, four points apiece from Ryan Anderson and Jens Gehl, and a free throw from Pajtash.
Gehl finished with 16 points, and Anderson had 10. Pajtash and Klinzing scored seven points each, and Zach Rajala had six points.
Stricker tied Vandenberghe’s game-high mark with 24 points for Mellen, and Jones finished with 11 points.
Solon Springs (14-0, 10-0) travels to Bayfield (4-8, 2-8) Friday.
NOTES: A few raspy coughs could be heard from the Solon Springs bench Friday night, and the Eagles were forced to adjust their starting lineup as they deal with illness.
Rajala said a number of players are fighting bronchitis
“I’ve got my Purell hand sanitizer, and I’m trying anything I can to get us germ-free,” he said.
Anderson and Pajtash returned to action Friday after the Eagles’ previous game due to illness.
Mellen................................. 22 39 — 61
Solon Springs..................... 32 38 — 70
Mellen — Davin Stricker 24, Kaeden Jones 11, Ahpahnae Thomas 8, Jordan Koosman 5, Trevor Beach 4, Lucas Vitek 4, Caleb Delegan 3, Brady Mesko-Jokinen 2.
3-point goals — Stricker 4, Jones 3, Delegan.
Solon Springs — Adam Vandenberghe 24, Jens Gehl 16, Ryan Anderson 10, Corey Pajtash 7, Ian Klinzing 7, Zach Rajala 6.
3-point goals — Rajala.