Eagles win first ever IC title

SOLON SPRINGS -- The Solon Springs boys basketball team closed out Indianhead Conference play Saturday with confetti. The Eagles' celebration followed their 81-65 win over Mercer, which gave Solon Springs its first conference title in school history.


SOLON SPRINGS - The Solon Springs boys basketball team closed out Indianhead Conference play Saturday with confetti.

The Eagles’ celebration followed their 81-65 win over Mercer, which gave Solon Springs its first conference title in school history.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Dale Rajala, Eagles head coach. “It’s an incredible feeling to be able to finally have everything come together for us.”

With Saturday’s win, Solon Springs finishes the regular season in a 15-1 tie with Washburn for a share of the conference crown. The Eagles defeated Washburn 61-54 in Solon Springs, but the Castle Guards won the rematch in Washburn 72-60.

At Saturday’s game, Solon Springs fans came prepared to celebrate. They handed out party poppers on the sly and, at the final buzzer, showered the court with confetti.


The team stayed on the floor to accept the championship banner, and the fans then streamed out of the bleachers to join them.

“This is to the whole community,” Rajala said. “Everything we’ve been through this past year, it’s just fantastic.”

Solon Springs is in the midst of a referendum campaign and may be forced to close if it cannot increase its revenue. Residents have expressed deep anxiety about the future of the school, but those worries were set aside Saturday to celebrate the Eagles’ conference championship.

“Words can’t even explain how excited I am right now,” said Eagles forward Adam Vandenberghe.

The senior scored his 1,000th career point Saturday and finished with a game-high 32 points. Among his baskets was a soaring, one-handed dunk that gave the Eagles a 14-5 lead at 13:19.

A 9-2 run by Mercer put the Tigers within four at 10:17, but Solon Springs scored the next eight points to reclaim a comfortable lead, 26-14. By halftime the Eagles led 40-27.

Vandenberghe had 19 points in the first half. Jens Gehl had nine and Ryan Anderson added seven to lead the Eagles.

“We’re all a family, and we’re working as a team,” Anderson said. “No one is selfish on this team. Everyone is working together.”


Corey Pajtash opened the second half with a nice drive inside, and two free throws by Vandenberghe and a layup by Anderson gave Solon Springs a 46-27 lead.

Johnny Cassiani stopped Mercer’s slide with a 3-pointer, but Solon Springs put its lead back to 18 with a shot under the basket by Gehl.

The teams then traded four 3-pointers in the next minute. Alex Schmidt made two for Mercer and Anderson and Vandenberghe hit one apiece for the Eagles.

Solon Springs took a 60-36 lead before Cassiani hit another 3-pointer, and two free throws from Tarrin St. Germain left Mercer trailing 60-41.

On the next play Solon Springs set up Vandenberghe near the free-throw line, and the senior’s jumper swished in at 11:50 to give him his 1,000th point.

When play stopped to mark the milestone, Vandenberghe was shocked to see glittery, 1,000-point signs scattered throughout the crowd.

A group of Rookie Basketball Association (RBA) players gave him another surprise when they stepped onto the court and unfurled a large, hand-made banner reading, “Vandenberghe 1,000.”

Rajala said the banner and signs surprised him too.


“All I knew was we were going to call a timeout and let the crowd know he had 1,000 points,” Rajala said. “He is going to get the game ball for that. He’s meant so much to this team, and he’s done an incredible job leading us.”

Vandenberghe said his teammates started a 1,000-point countdown when the Eagles were about three-fourths of the way through the season.

Heading into the regular season finale, he needed 28 points to reach the career milestone.

“I had a little bit (of nervousness), but I knew they’d all pick me up if I was down,” Vandenberghe said. “These guys all set me up perfectly for it. I have to thank my team more than anything.”

The Tigers made four more 3-pointers after Vandenberghe scored his 1,000th point, but they were not able to cut into the Eagles’ lead, falling 81-65.

Schmidt and Cassiani led the Tigers with 23 and 20 points, respectively. They combined for nine 3-pointers.

Vandenberghe (32), Gehl (17) and Anderson (13) led the Eagles in scoring. Vandenberghe made four 3-pointers, Anderson made two, and Gehl had a two-handed dunk.

Zach Rajala added six points for the Eagles, Pajtash had five, Caleb Hedberg had four, and Reid Lisson and Ian Klinzing had two apiece.

All five seniors on the Eagles roster scored in Saturday’s game.

“Our group of seniors has worked together ever since RBA,” Anderson said. “We’ve done well all the way through, and we expected to be a good team. We just worked hard all year.”

The Eagles set a school record for most wins in a season, and they’ll have a chance to add to their 21 wins in the playoffs.

Solon Springs earned the No. 2 seed and will face No. 15 Shell Lake to open the WIAA Division 5 playoffs March 1. Washburn claimed the No. 1 seed in the region.

If both teams win their half of the bracket, they will meet March 10 in the sectional semifinals in Superior.

“We’ve got to get back to the same old grind,” Vandenberghe said. “We’ve got to keep on pushing.”

NOTES: Since scoring five of Solon Springs’ 11 points in overtime Feb. 8 in a narrow win over Northwood, Anderson has been unstoppable for the Eagles. The senior led the team in scoring the next four games, averaging 23.3 points per game. He had been averaging 8.3 points per game up until that point.

“We started working as a team, open shots came and I knocked them down,” Anderson said. “Everyone’s looking for the open shooter.”

Solon Springs now has three players averaging in double figures. Vandenberghe leads with 20.7 points per game, followed by Gehl (14) and Anderson (11.3).


Saturday’s game

Mercer.................................. 27    38   -        65

Solon Springs........................... 40    41   -        81

Mercer - Alex Schmidt 23, Johnny Cassiani 20, Tarrin St. Germain 10, James Reichard 6, Jake Hill 5, Avery Brandt 1.

3-point goals - Schmidt 5, Cassiani 4, Reichard.

Solon Springs - Adam Vandenberghe 32, Jens Gehl 17, Ryan Anderson 13, Zach Rajala 6, Corey Pajtash 5, Caleb Hedberg 4, Reid Lisson 2, Ian Klinzing 2.

3-point goals - Vandenberghe 4, Anderson 2, Hedberg, Rajala.


Thursday’s game

Hurley................................... 33    21   -        54

Solon Springs........................... 43    32   -        75

Hurley - James Sukanen 30, Kohl Manzanares 7, Isaac DeCarlo 6, Dante Bender 5, Tandrell Foster 3, Josh Quello 3.

3-point goals -  Quello, Manzanares.

Solon Springs - Ryan Anderson 23, Adam Vandenberghe 19, Jens Gehl 9, Corey Pajtash 7, Zach Rajala 7, Reid Lisson 6, Caleb Hedberg 2, Ian Klinzing 2.

3-point goals - Anderson 2, Vandenberghe 2, Rajala.

Photo by Jed Carlson /

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