The Spring Grove boys set program records for the fewest fouls committed and the fewest free throws allowed, contributing to the best scoring defense in the last 71 years. But the 2021 basketball season will be most remembered for few fans and no band in the stands to watch players wearing masks. Due to the pandemic, there were only 17 games – the fewest in 44 years – since the 17-game season of 1977. It has been 73 years since the boys played fewer than 17 games in 1948.
For most teams, it was mostly a conference campaign. With COVID cancellations, postponements and some make-ups, Spring Grove was able to play 14 of the 16 scheduled Southeast Conference contests plus only two non-conference games during the regular season.
But there were some familiar and enjoyable results as Wade Grinde’s guys returned to the throne room with their 10th SEC East Division championship in the last 11 years. The 12-2 conference record was two-and-half-games ahead of second-place Randolph. League losses came against those runner-up Rockets and West Division champion Lyle/Pacelli (18-3, 15-1 SEC). Spring Grove did avenge the loss at Randolph with a 67-54 win in the rematch.
Wins, losses, streaks
It was the 23rd consecutive non-losing season (22 winning records, one break-even). The 2021 boys matched last season’s 13 wins (that 13-13 break-even campaign). But this year’s 13-4 record was a much more satisfying .765 winning percentage – the 17th best in 72 years of surviving results.
The most prestigious win was the 61-54 late-season, home decision against a Southland squad, which came within one game of the state tournament (falling to Hayfield in the Section 1A championship game). Most satisfying was the payback against Randolph. The season and conference-opening 45-41 tight fit at Grand Meadow – against a good team that eventually won 10 games – provided some confidence for four new, young starters, who were without the benefit of the usual summer-league preparation (again COVID).
Most games were decided by double-digit margins, and the Lions lost only one of those – at Lyle/Pacelli, 51-38. Spring Grove won only two of the five close games. They hit 6 of 10 late free throws to subdue Grand Meadow, 45-41. The Lions hit 9 of 12 free throws in the final five minutes to hold off Southland, 61-54, handing the Rebels one of their three losses.
Most deflating was losing a 16-point lead at Randolph. However, the Lions were down by only three points before the Rockets added a pair of free throws with 34 seconds to play for a 52-47 decision. Against Rushford-Peterson, the boys trailed by two points until the final five seconds when the Trojans cashed in four free throws (46-40). Four potential game-winning shots did not find the net before the final buzzer ended a 38-36 loss to Wabasha-Kellogg in the section opener. It was second straight Spring Grove season without a playoff win, breaking a nine-year streak of success in postseason openers.
Two of the four losses came with the Lions scoring only 13 points in the second half after the other team changed defenses. Spring Grove, after leading Randolph by 13 points at halftime (34-21), managed only 13 in the second half when the Rockets switched to a combination zone-man defense to slow down Caden Grinde. It was another 13-point second half for Spring Grove when Wabasha-Kellogg changed defenses after halftime for a come-from-behind victory. Oddly enough, the other two losses came with the Lions scoring more points in the second half than they did in the first half, but the other guys scored more.
The close encounter in the season-opener was the 44th straight win over Grand Meadow, and the Lions extended the winning streak versus Mabel-Canton to 23 games, against Lanesboro to 16 games and to 11 games versus Fillmore Central. Grove has taken 57 of the last 59 versus Houston and 20 of 22 all-time against Schaeffer Academy. A four-game winning streak against Wabasha-Kellogg came to an end.
The Lions snapped a three-game losing slide against Southland and a two-game losing streak against Randolph, which will be leaving the conference with the Lions holding an 8-to-3 series lead. Spring Grove fell to Rushford-Peterson for a sixth straight time. It was a second straight setback versus Lyle/Pacelli, but the Lions lead all-time 34 to 3.
This was not a high-scoring team, averaging 58 points per game, better than the previous year’s 53, but these last two seasons have been the lowest-scoring campaigns in 11 years. Scoring defense, however, was the best in 71 years! The opponents averaged only 35.6 points per game, the fewest since the rivals in 1950 managed only 37.5 points. Granted, there were not some of the high-profile, non-conference opponents in years past, but the 2021 Lions posted, by far, the best scoring defensive numbers in the 34-year era of 3-point baskets and the 26-years coached by Wade Grinde.
Averaging 22.3 points per game more than the opposition is the eighth-best scoring margin in 75 seasons. Oddly enough, the Spring Grove boys won the two games in which they surrendered the most points; Randolph and Southland both lost when scoring 54 points.
Under Wade Grinde, Spring Grove has not always played the same defense, but always good defense. This year, the trapping half-court zone defense was a dilemma for every foe. They displayed discipline while trapping without fouling, averaging only 10 fouls per game – the fewest in the 40 years for which there are records. Few fouls helped, since there was little depth with only six (mostly five) players used in close games.
Spring Grove averaged more than 13 steals per game while limiting the opposition to only 6.3 free throws per game – the fewest charity shots in the 36 years for which statistics survive.
In the era of 3-point emphasis, Spring Grove held its greatest scoring advantages with 2-point shots and free throws. The Lions improved their 3-point accuracy from the previous season but not to the level of previous championship teams. But the overall 46% accuracy from the field was a significant improvement from the previous year’s 38% and similar to that of the previous nine conference championship seasons. It was a near stalemate from 3-point land, where Spring Grove and the opponents both had about the same number of attempts, and both shot an acceptable 28%.
Whistles and boards
Rebounding and getting to the free throw line indicated both victory and defeat. At the foul line, the Lions not only shot considerably more free throws than the opposition but also shot 64% to the opponents’ 55%, a reversal compared to the previous season (SG 54%, opponents 66%). These boys were among only seven Lion teams to ”make” more free throws (168) than the opponents ”attempted” (107). This winter, Spring Grove outscored the opposition by 161 points at the charity stripe.
Getting to the foul line was critical for the Lions, who lost four of the five games in which they attempted fewer than 10 free throws. Only three opponents made it to the charity line for 10 or more free throws.
Beneath the backboards, the Lions won the rebound battle in 12 of their 17 games and broke even in a 13th. They lost three of the four games in which they were outrebounded. Averaging 24 rebounds per game to the other teams’ 21 made 11 consecutive seasons in which Spring Grove outrebounded the other guys. Wade Grinde teams have won the backboard battle in 24 of his 26 seasons at the helm.
It was likewise in the turnover count; after Grinde’s first two years, his squads have committed fewer total turnovers than the opponents in each of the last 24 seasons. This year, Lyle/Pacelli claimed the most decisive win over Spring Grove (51-38) with only 11 turnovers – the fewest of any opponent and one better than the Lions. In 2021, the Grove guys averaged only 11 turnovers per game while the other guys lost possession 21 times per contest.
The coaches were pleased with how quickly and effectively a young Lion lineup came together and adapted to varsity competition. The abrupt end of the season was disappointing, but the young Lions capturing another conference crown offers optimism for the future. The primary six-player rotation included two freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and one senior. The senior standout, Caden Grinde, will be on a college roster next winter while a still young, but more experienced Lion crew adjusts to losing their leader in points, steals and assists, who was also the second leading rebounder. A young varsity also meant a young freshman-laden B-team that went 6-7, including four losses by four or fewer points. The eighth graders went 10-1 and the seventh graders 3-7.
The focus of this article is on the team; individual players will be featured in upcoming coverage.
>>SEC EAST DIVISION
Spring Grove*………12-2 SEC, 13-4 season
Randolph……………. 10-5 SEC, 12-7 season
Lanesboro 7-7 SEC, 8-12 season
Schaeffer Academy 6-8 SEC, 7-10 season
Mabel-Canton 4-11 SEC, 5-14 season
Houston 0-15 SEC, 0-18 season
* champion East Division
>>SEC WEST DIVISION
Lyle/Pacelli…………15-1 SEC, 18-3 season
Southland…………..12-2 SEC, 18-3 season
Grand Meadow 8-6 SEC, 10-7 season
LeRoy-Ostrander 6-7 SEC, 7-8 season
Kingsland 3-11 SEC, 4-13 season
Glenville-Emmons 0-8 SEC, 0-9 season
Varsity Boys Basketball 2021). >>13-4 season, 12-2 SEC
2-0 vs Mabel-Canton 57-31, 60-24
2-0 vs. Schaeffer Academy 67-28, 59-43
2-0 vs. Houston 86-35, 64-15
2-0 vs. Lanesboro 67-39, 63-24
1-0 vs. Grand Meadow 45-41
1-0 vs. Fillmore Central 68-47
1-0 vs. Southland 61-54
1-0 vs. Kingsland 60-24
1-1 vs. Randolph 47-52, 67-54
0-1 vs. Lyle/Pacelli 38-51
0-1 vs. Rushford-Peterson 40-46
0-1 vs. Wabasha-Kellogg 36-38 (section)
B-team Boys Basketball 2021. >>6 wins, 7 losses
2-0 vs. Houston 53-12, 48-6
1-0 vs. Kingsland 40-29
1-0 Grand Meadow 56-30
1-0 vs. Mabel-Canton 55-17
1-1 vs. Schaeffer Academy 38-22, 33-36
0-1 vs. Fillmore Central 38-42
0-1 vs. Lyle/Pacelli 30-42
0-2 vs. Randolph 44-47 (OT), 17-39
0-2 vs. Lanesboro 31-43, 42-44
8th Grade Boys Basketball 2021 >>10 wins, 1 loss
2-0 vs. Schaeffer Academy 29-13, 39-23
2-0 vs. Houston 35-15, 33-5
2-0 vs. Mabel-Canton 37-16 W vs. Mabel-Canton 44-24
2-0 vs. Lanesboro 34-16, 35-23
1-0 vs. Randolph 23-20
1-0 vs. Fillmore Central 38-13
0-1 vs. Kingsland 15-27
7th Grade Boys Basketball 2021 >>3 wins, 7 losses
1-0 vs. Fillmore Central 35-26
1-1 vs. Houston 24-34, 30-22
1-1 vs. Lanesboro 32-38, 35-23
0-1 vs. Randolph 11-42
0-1 vs. Leroy-Ostrander
0-1 vs. Kingsland 21-41
0-2 vs. Mabel-Canton 23-39, 19-31