TIFFIN– They went right down to the wire.
The Solon Spartans remained alive in postseason basketball play last week, eliminating both Clear Creek Amana and Williamsburg in nail-biting fashion for a chance at a berth in the state tournament. Solon faced Davenport Assumption Monday night, Feb. 27, at Iowa City West High in a substate final.
“A lot of kids stepped up,” noted Solon Head Coach Brad Randall. “Ryan Kunkel came out of his shell a little bit this week.”
Kunkel blocked a last-second three-point attempt against Williamsburg in overtime, and connected on two consecutive baskets to bring Solon back to a tie game with CCA in the closing minutes.
The Spartans beat CCA, 42-41, Monday night in Tiffin, then traveled to Cedar Rapids Prairie Thursday to face Williamsburg in a 45-42 overtime victory. Both games came down to the last shot.
Against CCA, the Spartans had to shake off a slow start and found themselves continually scrambling to wrest control of the game away from the senior-dominated Clippers.
“We didn’t play as well as we’d like in the first half,” Randall observed. “But I like how we battled back.”
Solon fell behind early, down as many as 12 points during a first half scoring drought. Two three-pointers by Rory Siddell helped trim it to a seven-point deficit at halftime, 23-16.
The Spartans came out strong in the third quarter, and another three by Siddell put Solon in the lead momentarily at 30-29.
Although the Clippers had lost four straight games heading into the postseason, they had a 10-1 streak in the middle of their season and were playing at home. CCA retook the lead at the end of the third quarter and it became nip and tuck heading into the final eight minutes.
A Turner Wentzien three-pointer made it a four-point game halfway through the fourth, but a foul by Joe Weeks sent CCA’s Nash Stopko to the line for the front end of a one-and-one and a chance to extend the Clipper lead. Stopko missed, and on the ensuing possession Kunkel hit a jumper to bring Solon back to within a basket.
CCA’s Clay Miller saw his three-pointer go in and out, and Solon responded with another Kunkel jump shot to tie the game at 41-41.
After another miss by CCA, the Spartans began to draw down the clock, and the Clippers fouled Siddell, and he connected on the front end to give Solon a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining.
Miller was called for traveling, but a CCA trap gave the ball back to the Clippers with less than 20 seconds left. A last-second shot by CCA’s Dillon Villhauer drew iron and the game was over.
“It was a great way to finish,” Randall said, noting CCA was held without a field goal for the last four minutes of the game. “We really stepped up defensively the last few minutes of the ball game. We’re getting a little better at finishing games under pressure.”
Wentzien led the Spartans in scoring with 16 points. Siddell added 10. Weeks and Jake Morris led in rebounding with seven and six. Solon shot 14-42 from the field, but 7-10 from the line.
It was just as nerve-wracking two nights later when Solon faced Williamsburg in a district semifinal at Cedar Rapids Prairie. But this time it was Solon that jumped out to a lead and was forced to fend off the Raiders.
The Spartans led 17-4 at the end of the first quarter but a sluggish second gave them a four-point margin at half.
Solon re-asserted itself coming out in the third, building the lead to 37-29 going into the fourth, but the Raiders rallied hard, limiting the Spartans to just three points to knot the game at 40-40 at the end of regulation.
“We had good shots, we just didn’t make them,” Randall said of the fourth quarter. “We did a nice job in overtime, only allowing them two points.” Solon pressured full court, started trapping and kept an eye on Williamsburg’s leading scorer, Mick Donohoe.
Ethan Ahern, Wentzien, Morris and Kunkel all made free throws at the end to help ice the game, he said, and Kunkel altered one shot and blocked another to close it out.
“The student body did a nice job showing up, and that really helped carry us, too,” Randall added.
Solon had three players in double figures, including Weeks with 15, Wentzien with 11 and Siddell with 10. Weeks had 16 rebounds and Kunkel had eight. The Spartans shot 16-39 from the field including 2-9 from three-point range, and were 11-20 from the free throw line.
Solon faced 20-3 Davenport Assumption in a district final Monday night for a spot in the state tournament.