Both close contests elude Spring Grove boys at Sweet Sixteen

ABOVE: Caden Grinde finishes a fast break versus Minneota. MIDDLE: Noah Elton battles for a rebound against Willmar. BELOW: Kai Bjerke draws a foul while driving to the basket against Minneota..
By : 
S. Lee Epps

The Spring Grove varsity boys split the two lopsided games but faded at the end of both close contests at last weekend's Pacesetter "Sweet Sixteen" Basketball Championship in St. Joseph at the College of St. Benedict. 

As in most summers, this 27th annual 16-team event was a tall task for the four smallest Class A schools in an event that showcases a quartet of highly regarded clubs from each of the state's four classes - all in one tournament bracket.  

It is an honor to be included with the Lions receiving their fourth invitation and making their third appearance. With an enrollment of 101, Spring Grove was the smallest school to receive an invitation in 2018.

There was only one upset in the first round when AA Brooklyn Center downed AAA Willmar. SG was the only Class A team that drew an opponent from the largest class in Aug. 4 first round. However, all four Class A clubs lost their first two games before facing each other in the final two rounds on Aug. 5. The championship semi-finals featured all four AAAA schools.

Minnesota head basketball coaches may not coach their teams during August; they may attend but not be on the bench. The substitute coach for the Lions last weekend was Matt Rosaaen, who has coached the Lion B-team and assisted with the varsity during the summer off-season. Games were played with four nine-minute quarters.

The Lions, playing against four veteran teams, won one and dropped three on the final weekend to close with an overall 14-9 summer record.


>>>EAST RIDGE 95, SG 61

A one-point game at halftime became a second-half rout for Class AAAA East Ridge. Spring Grove led on three occasions during the first half. But the Raptors, who had led only 36-35 at halftime, outscored the Lions 35-7 in the third quarter and 59- 24 in the second half overall.

Significantly taller, East Ridge either blocked or intimidated Lion shot attempts near the basket. Long-armed Raptor defenders deflected many passes, forced numerous turnovers and scored often in transition.

SG, which stayed close before halftime while hitting 15 of 16 free throws, attempted only three foul shots (2 for 3) in the second half.

Alex Folz led Lion scoring with 19 points; Ethan Matzke put in 15 points, Takoda Boyd 11, Noah Elton 8, Kai Bjerke 6 and Caden Grinde 2.

After hitting only two 3-point baskets in the first half, East Ridge buried eight treys after the break.

With an enrollment 17 times that of Spring Grove, the school in Woodbury features three players receiving recruitment attention from Division I universities. Ben Carlson, although only a junior, has already received offers from 11 or 12 major college programs.

The Raptors return three starters from last year's 23-6 section runner-up team.


>>>WILLMAR 57, SG 50

It was a deflating finish for SG after a hard-fought rally. Down by as many as 11 points, the Lions were back within six at halftime (32-26) and tied the score three times in the second half before finally taking the lead (50-47) with a Grinde 3-pointer with only 1:55 to play. It was the first Lion lead since 3-2.

Then the Cardinals scored the final 10 points of the game as previously solid SG ball handling suddenly collapsed.

After only six turnovers through the first 34 minutes, SG lost possession three times in the final two minutes amid a flurry of Willmar lay-ups.

Lion perimeter shooting was unreliable for most of the game. And with all inside shots contested by tall, athletic and quick Cardinals, free throw shooting was again the most dependable part of the attack for SG, which netted 12 of 13 charity attempts.

Going 8 for 8 at the foul line and hitting six of the eight Lion treys, Folz scored 32 of the Lions' 50 points.

With an enrollment nearly 10 times that of Spring Grove, Willmar graduated the school's all-time scoring leader but does return the other four starters from a Class AAA team that went 26-3 before falling in the section championship game.



New Ulm Cathedral hit three quick 3-pointers to lead 11-3 in the Sunday morning 8 a.m. breakfast contest. But after scoring 15 points in the first quarter, the Greyhounds scored only 12 points over the last three periods combined. Cold shooting and turnovers plagued Cathedral until the end.

SG received balanced scoring with 17 from points from Folz while Matzke added 14, Elton 13, Grinde 10 and Bjerke 8.

The Lions needed only four 3-pointers, two coming on buzzer--beaters at the end of the second and third quarters. Free throw shooting dipped to 11 for 20.

Class A Cathedral returns three starters among four veterans from a team that went 22-6 last winter.


>>>MINNEOTA 71, SG 68

Two Lion turnovers in the final 37 seconds allowed a hard-fought lead to slip away. After playing from behind most of the game, SG held its greatest lead 68-65 with 1:40 to play. But the Lions would not score again while Minneota added the final six points of the game. 

The Vikings forced a tie-ball turnover, then regained the lead 69-68 with two free throws at 0:26 and would sink 2 of 4 from the foul line in the final 16 seconds. The last miss allowed SG a final chance with 0:07 on the clock, but a long 3-point shot was blocked.

The two Lion turnovers in the final half-minute came uncharacteristically after only five turnovers in the previous 35 and half minutes.

SG could not prevail despite 35 points from Folz, a 10-point advantage at the foul line and a dozen 3-point baskets. The Lions hit 18 for 25 free throws, while Minneota went 8 for 15.

All five Viking treys came before taking a 38-35 lead into halftime. Minneota had greater success getting shots close to the basket.

Again the Lions fell behind early (11-4) before taking a 21-19 lead with a Folz buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter. A sensational trey by Grinde was a split second too late to tie the game again at halftime.

SG stayed close throughout the second half before finally edging ahead 65-64 with an Elton basket with 3:40 to play.

Four different Lions connected beyond the 3-point arc, but Folz sank eight of the 12 SG 3-pointers and finished with 35 points. Matzke added 11 points with 8 from Grinde and 7 from Elton.

With an enrollment of 186, Class A Minneota returns four starters from a team that went 24-4 and reached the section finals where the Vikings lost by two points to the eventual state champion (Russell-Tyler-Ruthton).