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Solon Springs moves into first place in the Indianhead Conference

Jed Carlson /

SOLON SPRINGS — The Solon Springs boys basketball team took a step closer to winning its second straight Indianhead Conference championship with a 53-50 win over the Drummond Lumberjacks Friday night in Sandy “Spin” Slade Gymnasium.

The Eagles knew they needed to win their final two games of the regular season to claim at least a share of the conference title, and they checked one of those boxes Friday.

The second box to check comes Friday night when Solon Springs plays at Hurley, a team the Eagles defeated 65-61 on Jan. 12.

“Hurley almost beat us here last time, they really took it to us,” Solon Springs head coach Dale Rajala said. “That’s going to be a difficult place to win, so it’s nice that we have a week to prepare and get ready for it.”

Drummond, who falls to 10-3 in the IC (13-3 overall) has three home games left, including South Shore tonight and Mercer Wednesday. The Lumberjacks lost at Mercer 62-60 on Jan. 5.

“Drummond’s home the rest of the year, and that’s a tough place to play,” Rajala said. “We just have to worry about Hurley and not worry about what Drummond does.”

Jens Gehl led the Eagles with 24 points. Zach Rajala was next with 15 points, including 13 in the second half.

Jake Johnson led Drummond with 17 points. Colin Mergen was next with 12 points, despite sitting out 12 minutes of the first half with two fouls.

Trailing 20-15 at the half, the Eagles came out on fire in the second half and promptly tied the game 22-22 on a basket by Gehl and a 3- and 2-pointer by Rajala.

Gehl’s 3-point play gave Solon Springs its first lead of the game, 25-24, with 14:10 remaining.

“We decided to work together more as a team,” Gehl said. “We weren’t moving the ball well (in the first half) and were just standing around. But we picked it up and starting moving without the ball and that helped.”

The game was also tied at 27 and 29 when Gehl scored to give the Eagles the lead for good with 9:58 remaining.

Rajala scored eight of his points over the next three minutes to give Solon Springs a 39-31 lead.

“My teammates got me open and I just hit the shots, that’s all we did,” Zach Rajala said. “This was a huge win, the biggest of the year, and we’re not done. We’re halfway there we just have to finish.”

After a 3-pointer by Drummond’s Johnson and two free throws by Solon Springs’ Caden Smith, Gehl scored the Eagles’ next eight points for a 49-40 lead with 2:22 left.

Drummond managed to make it a 53-50 game on a basket by Johnson with 4.6 seconds left.

The Lumberjacks then stole the ball, but a desperation 3-point attempt from the corner at the buzzer fell short, giving the Eagles the three-point win.

“Coach said we needed to play smarter defensively and pressure their guys up top,” Zach Rajala said. “In the first half they were able to scan the whole court and get on the baseline for open layups. We just had to play more aggressively — we were playing weak at the beginning.”

The Eagles’ slow start allowed Drummond to take an 8-0 lead just 3:43 into the game.

After a time out, Solon Springs scored six straight points, including four by Gehl.

“We need to get off to better starts, this has happened to us the past couple of games,” Coach Rajala said. “We need to get into a better rhythm, we’re just not taking care of the ball and our possessions are too quick.”

Drummond followed with a 12-2 run for a 20-8 lead with around five minutes left in the half.

Nick Zosel snapped Solon Springs’ scoring drought with a basket that started a 5-0 run and got the Eagles within 20-15 at halftime.

“I told them to quit donating possessions (in the first half),” Coach Rajala said. “We cannot give away possessions to a team like Drummond because they are so proficient and get everything out of every possession. We needed to slow the ball down and just get some rhythm on offense. I thought with our skilled players, once we settled down, we could get back into the ball game.

“But credit to them, they came out and moved the ball around well and got good looks. Drummond’s just a quality team.”

EAGLES EXTRAS: Solon Springs was 14-for-22 on free throws, compared to 7-of-11 for Drummond. … Drummond defeated Solon Springs 48-45 on Jan. 9. … Solon Springs has now won 22 straight home games. The Eagles’ last home loss was March 3, 2015. … Drummond won the JV game 41-30.

Drummond.................... 20     30        —        50

Solon Springs............... 15     38        —        53

Drummond — Jake Johnson 17, Colin Mergen 12, Luke Miller 6, Alex Spezia 6, Logan Arthur 2, Sean Bjork 4, Jeremy Miller 3.

3-point goals — Johnson 3, Spezia 2.

Solon Springs — Jens Gehl 24, Zach Rajala 15, Caden Smith 6, Chase Latvala 2, Alex Hunter 2, Nicholas Zosel 2, Reid Lisson 2.

3-point goals — Rajala 3.