Lions topple top seed Springfield in first round, 78-67

Noah Elton gets to the rim during 25-point, 10-rebound performance as the Lions knocked off No, 1 seed Springfield 78-67. Defending are two Tiger scoring standouts, Isaac Fink and Decker Scheffler. Photo by S. Lee Epps
By : 
Lee Epps

In their first-ever state tournament game, the unseeded Spring Grove boys (by luck of the draw) faced top seed Springfield in the March 21 first round (quarterfinals) and torched the title hopes of the Tigers, who came in at 27-2 and state-ranked No. 5 by both the media and the computer. Spring Grove was No. 19 in the media poll and rated No. 8 by the computer.

The Lions hit 60% of their shots from the field, their second highest shooting percentage of the season. And that included a scorching 65% from 3-point land, an amazing 13 of 20. That was a season high for made threes.

Spring Grove (24-4) was one point shy of having three players score 20 points and one point short of having four score in double figures.

Noah Elton, KFIL Radio Lion Player of the Game, turned in a double double, including 10 rebounds and a career-high 25 points at "The Barn" (Williams Arena, University of Minnesota). He went 8 for 13 from the field, including a trio of 3-balls.

Alex Folz, with four treys, hit 6 of 9 shots on the way to 21 points. Ethan Matzke, KFIL Game Ball winner, threw in five 3-pointers while scoring 19 points. Caden Grinde sank 4 of 6 shots and finished with 11 points.

The Lions had lost to Springfield in last year's season opener, but they knew they could play with the top seed, since they had taken the current Springfield lineup into overtime during the championship game of a high-level tournament last summer.

Likewise, the top seed did not take the Lions lightly. "I thought maybe the one team of the group (Spring Grove) that I was most worried about," said Springfield coach Lance Larson. "Just the way they control the pace, are so good defensively and how strong they are.

"The big key is they shot well. I didn't expect them to shoot quite that well."

Rebounding was even (Lions 25, Tigers 26), and both teams had only 11 turnovers. The difference was shooting, especially from the three point arc (13 treys to 9) and the foul line where Spring Grove held a nine-point advantage in an 11-point win.

"We knew what we were up against," said coach Wade Grinde. "We knew we were going to have a heck of a time stopping those two shooters. We can't stop (Isaac) Fink. But we made everybody else earn what they got."

Grinde referred to Fink as the top-rated Class A player in the state. The 6-foot-4 senior guard, who has more than 3,00 career points and 1,000 career rebounds is one of five finalists for Mr. Basketball. Averaging 32 points per game, he looked well deserving of that praise while filling the net with 27 of his 30 points before halftime.

But sophomore Caden Grinde adjusted his defense and limited the senior sharpshooter to only 3 points in the second half.

Despite Fink's scoring spree in the first half, the Lions led 41-34 at halftime. Eight of their 13 treys came before intermission. 

The game was an exchange of scoring runs. The Tigers led early 18-11 after a 10-2 run. But the Lions scored the next eight points. There were nine lead changes in the first half before Spring Grove scored the final six points of the half to lead by seven.

A 10-2 run early in the second half gave the Lions their greatest lead of 16 points (54-38). 

After a 9-to-0 scoring spurt, the Tigers were back within five, but Spring Grove replied with a 10-point surge to go back up by 15.

Three different Lions combined to net 8 of 11 free throws in the final two minutes to squelch all Tiger hopes.

Coach Grinde said the Lions needed to stop the Tigers' transition and try to hold down Fink the best you can.  Spring Grove won that fast break battle 9 points to 4.

Fink, who would later be named to the All-Tournament Team, eschewed the Lions' being a low seed. "They are one of the best teams around. Their role players came up big. They just played better than us."

The Tigers shot reasonably well at 45%, including nine 3-point baskets. But that would not be enough to stay with the hot-shooting Lions. 

Averaging 88 points a game, Springfield was limited to 67 against Spring Grove. But the Tigers followed up with 95-73 and 93-61 romps while dominating the consolation bracket. They were state champions in 2011.

"No doubt, it's one of the best games we've played all year," said (Wade) Grinde. "We had to play that way to beat a team like Springfield."