Eagles end season (updated)
MINONG — The Solon Springs boys basketball team ended its season Saturday with a 71-66 loss to Mellen in the WIAA Division 5 regional finals.
Mellen trailed by 16 points with 5:44 left in the first half, but the Granite Diggers rallied in the second half behind the play of senior Davin Stricker.
“They came out with a good mindset, and Davin decided to take the game over and we couldn’t stop him,” said Dale Rajala, Solon Springs head coach.
Stricker scored 19 points in the second half after being held to just a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
During a crucial 16-3 run for Mellen from 13:18 to 9:37, Stricker scored 12 of the team’s points. He also scored Mellen’s final two field goals of the night before the Granite Diggers finished off the game at the free-throw line.
“I thought it was a great high school basketball game,” said Don Moreland, Mellen head coach. “Our kids played hard. They don’t ever quit.”
The Eagles controlled the game in the opening half and began the night with a 14-3 run.
Zach Rajala knocked down a 3-pointer 13 seconds into the game, and Jens Gehl followed moments later with a shot inside.
Caden Smith’s free throw gave Solon Springs a 6-0 lead before Stricker scored Mellen’s first points on a 3-pointer at 15:08. Another basket by Gehl and two 3-pointers by Chase Latvala concluded the Eagles’ 14-3 run.
Latvala stayed hot from the arc with two more 3-pointers in the next six minutes to give Solon Springs a 26-12 lead, and at 5:44 the Eagles took their largest lead of the night on Smith’s steal and layup.
Mellen closed out the half with 13 points to cut Solon’s lead to 33-25, and the Granite Diggers took their first lead of the game, 44-43, at 11:14 in the second half.
“I told the kids at halftime, nothing went our way,” Moreland said. “They got some breaks, I thought a couple calls went their way — not to blame the officials — and the ball bounced their way. … I said, ‘Everything went their way. They got the lead up to 16, and you cut it in half already.’ ”
Mellen’s second-half run led by Stricker put the Granite Diggers up 50-43, but Solon Springs responded with six straight points to make it a one-point game with 6:07 to play. Gehl began with a basket on an inbounds play, and he and Zach Rajala both added a free throw apiece to cut the lead to 50-47. The Eagles then went back inside to Gehl, and the junior converted on a pair of free throws to make it 50-49.
In the final six minutes of the game, Trevor Beach stepped up to keep Mellen in front. The junior hit a pair of 3-pointers and went 4-for-4 at the free-throw line.
Solon Springs cut the lead to one on two occasions — at 2:28 on a three-point play by Zach Rajala and at 1:22 on Lisson’s steal and layup — but the Eagles were forced to foul in the final minute, and Mellen went 4-of-5 at the line.
“We still gave ourselves a chance at the end to win, and they just made the plays down the stretch to finish it,” Dale Rajala said.
Seniors Lisson and Zach Rajala scored 11 of the Eagles’ final 17 points. Rajala also added an assist during that span, and Lisson had a steal.
“They left everything out on the floor. There is nothing that they can take away from this game that they can look back on and regret,” Dale Rajala said. “They gave it 100 percent, and I told them just to be proud and keep their heads up.”
Stricker finished with 25 points for Mellen, and fellow senior Ahpahnae Thomas had 22. Beach also reached double figures with 13 points.
Leading Solon Spring was Gehl with 22 points. Zach Rajala added 15 points, and Latvala had 12 points on a quartet of 3-pointers in the first half.
“I thought both teams played very, very well. Both teams should go home proud no matter what the result,” Moreland said. “I’d have been proud if we lost, but I’m extremely proud we won.”
Mellen will play Luck in the sectional semifinals Thursday in Superior. Luck defeated Drummond 53-47 Saturday to advance.
The Eagles end their season at 19-6 overall — tying the school record for the second-most wins in a season. Solon Springs also finished with a 13-3 record in the Indianhead Conference to share the title with Drummond.
The Eagles went undefeated at home for a second straight season and currently hold a 24-game winning streak on their home court.
“Nobody gave us a chance this year,” Dale Rajala said. “We ended up winning our conference, and we ended up defending our home court. These guys have nothing to be ashamed of; they have everything to be proud of.”
Seniors playing their last game for the Eagles were Lisson and Zach Rajala.
NOTES: This marked the second time Solon Springs has reached the regional finals in back-to-back years. The Eagles also managed the feat in 2012 and 2013. … Saturday’s win gives Mellen its first regional title since 2008. Luck returns to the sectional tournament for the fifth time in seven years.
Mellen........................... 25 46 — 71
Solon Springs............... 33 33 — 66
Mellen — Davin Stricker 25, Ahpahnae Thomas 22, Trevor Beach 13, Brady Mesko-Jokinen 7, Owen Jokinen 4.
3-point goals — Stricker 5, Beach 3, Mesko-Jokinen.
Solon Springs — Jens Gehl 22, Zach Rajala 15, Chase Latvala 12, Reid Lisson 5, Alex Hunter 5, Nick Zosel 4, Caden Smith 3.
3-point goals — Latvala 4, Rajala, Hunter.
Solon Springs advanced to the region finals with a 61-46 victory over Mercer Friday night in Solon Springs.
The Eagles led 33-18 at halftime and increased their lead to 20 in the second half before Mercer narrowed the gap with a late surge.
Tarrin St. Germain scored 18 points in the second half for the Tigers and led all players with 22 points.
Gehl had 16 points to lead the Eagles, and Zach Rajala added 12.
Mercer........................... 18 28 — 46
Solon Springs............... 33 28 — 61
Mercer — Tarrin St. Germain 22, Johnny Cassiani 8, Zayne Earl 5, Jose Cruz 4, Kobe Hiller 3, Baylie Huybrecht 2, Jake Hill 2.
3-point goals — St. Germain, Hiller.
Solon Springs — Jens Gehl 16, Zach Rajala 12, Caden Smith 9, Nick Zosel 8, Reid Lisson 5, Dane Banks 5, Alex Hunter 4, Chase Latvala 2.
3-point goals — Smith 2, Rajala 2, Hunter.