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Spartan boys win LSC title

Superior High School's Connor Gray (43) puts up a shot against the Hermantown Hawks earlier this season in the SHS gym. Gray scored a team-high 23 points in the Spartans’ 79-62 win Thursday night at Hermantown. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

By Louie St. George

Throughout the season the Superior High School boys basketball team has talked about hanging banners on the walls at its high school gymnasium.

New banners, the current crop of Spartans’ own banners to supplement the ones secured by past players.

Showing off the kind of balance and “next man up” approach that has triggered a bounce-back season after a forgettable 2013-14, Superior captured its eighth Lake Superior Conference crown in the past 10 seasons via a 79-62 victory at Hermantown on Thursday night.

The Spartans (14-1 overall, 8-0 LSC) knew what was at stake. A win Thursday and they were the champs outright. A loss and they potentially could have shared the league title.

“We talked before the game that we didn’t want to have an asterisk next to Superior Spartans for the 2014-15 season for sharing the conference championship,” second-year Superior coach Jake Smith said.

Through his own illustrious career, both in high school and then at Wisconsin-Superior, Smith said he never was part of a conference championship team. That made the postgame locker room extra special Thursday.

Senior Connor Gray agreed. After winning seven games a year ago, Gray and his veteran teammates wanted to restore the Spartans’ shine.

“I actually didn’t think it would mean as much as it does right now,” Gray said. “It feels amazing because Superior has a history of winning (conference championships), so we wanted to bring that back.”

Gray was pivotal to the cause. He scored 12 of his team-high 23 points in the first half when he was 6-for-6 from the floor. Even more important, he neutralized Hermantown’s Kole Zuidmulder early, holding the Hawks’ explosive big man to six first-half points. Gray also grabbed four rebounds.

Brett Lozon scored 21 points with four assists and three rebounds for Superior. The junior’s second 3-pointer of the night, which came with 1:10 left in the opening half, pushed the Spartans’ lead to 38-26 at the break.

Lozon and Gray had 24 of Superior’s 38 points at halftime.

“Every one of our players can step up and score,” Lozon said. “We play so well together that you can’t focus on one guy, and that makes us tough to beat. That’s the key to our success.”

Trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, Hermantown (17-4, 7-2), which mustered a single field goal in the first 6:41 after the intermission, finally got going. Zuidmulder led the charge, bulldozing his way to points in the paint, scoring from the 3-point line and knocking down free throws. He totaled 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half as the Hawks used a 10-0 run to close to within 56-45. They would get the deficit down to 10 points before running out of gas.

“They’re a great team. Well-coached, they execute well, they hit big shots when they needed to,” Hermantown coach Joe Schmitz said. “We got our backs pushed up against the wall and couldn’t make any headway until later in the second half.”

Jake Libal added 13 points, three rebounds and two steals for the Spartans, while Nick Mehlum and Brandon Myer had seven apiece. Mehlum also had six rebounds and three assists and Myer had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 With so many offensive threats, Schmitz remarked, “You can’t leave anybody open.”

It was Gray who quelled the Hawks’ momentum when he converted a three-point play to make it 59-45 with 7:58 remaining. Until then, it looked like Hermantown, which saw its six-game winning streak come to a close, might claw its way back into it.

“Every team has their runs, so we knew we’d have to fight through one,” Gray said.

Thomas Madison and Caleb Steinert scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Hawks.

The Spartans are back in action at 3 p.m. Saturday at Minneapolis Southwest. Superior defeated Southwest 60-48 at home on Dec. 6.

Slam Dunk Cancer

The Spartan boys and girls basketball teams will host the third annual Slam Dunk Cancer event on Tuesday.

The event is being put on by seniors Jeb Kimmes and Nate Sanders, both members of the boys team, for a senior project. All proceeds will go to Women’s Rock and St. Luke’s Regional Breast Cancer Center.

The SHS boys host Duluth East at 5:45 p.m., followed by the girls game at 7:30 p.m.

The event includes both varsity basketball games along with junior varsity and freshman games. Also included are a silent auction and Chinese raffle. T-shirts will be sold for the event, and game-worn pink jerseys will be auctioned off.

SPARTAN SPIN: Superior also defeated Hermantown 76-65 on Jan. 13. … Superior also got five points, nine assists and three rebounds from Nate Sanders and three points from Justin Reinkall. … Superior won the JV game 53-50. Tre Knight led the way with 19 points and three steals. Devin Borstad added eight points, Aaron O’Shaughnessy had six points and Grant Anderson and Shaun Petrovich chipped in with five points apiece. … The SHS C team lost 64-59. Corey Sanders had 15 points, Aaron Winters added 10 points and Zach Tharge had eight.

Superior           38           41           —           79

Hermantown   26           36           —           62

Superior — Brett Lozon 21, Brandon Myer 7, Connor Gray 23, Nick Mehlum 7, Jake Libal 13, Nate Sanders 5, Justin Reinkall 3. Totals 28 17-23 79.

3-point goals — Lozon 2, Myer, Mehlum, Libal, Graskey.

Hermantown — Kole Zuidmulder 27, Thomas Madison 12, Caleb Steinert 10, Nate Soumis 3, Christian Comstock 2, Daniel Hedstrom 2, Zach Zierden 4, Zack Brendon 2. Totals 22 12-16 62.

3-point goals — Zuidmulder 2, Madison 2, Steinert, Soumis.

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