With the worst flu season in three years ravaging the state, few have managed to avoid catching the illness. And one group that's been hit particularly hard of late is the Maple Grove Red Dragons boys basketball team.
Not that they've let it slow them down any.
"We had some guys out sick tonight," Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer said, "but that's no excuse."
Maple Grove’s Graham Soffel fires up a jump shot during Tuesday’s Division 3 basketball game against Forestville. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Though short four contributors due to the malady, the Red Dragons, as per their coach's instructions, refused to use their lesser numbers as an excuse for a letdown, and instead steamrolled the visiting Forestville Hornets (3-10, 1-7) in the first half on the way to an easy, 73-40 Division 3 victory.
Maple Grove, which improved to 11-1 overall and remained an unblemished 8-0 in league, built a 23-8 advantage by the end of the first period and then went on an impressive 25-0 scoring spree over the opening 5 minutes of the second - pushing the lead to 48-8 - to put the game away early.
Keys to that game-clinching run were a suffocating full-court pressure defense, which made for a number of easy buckets and by game's end had created 26 steals; and, when they did have to run their half-court offense, the solid play under the hoop by newly minted post player Graham Soffel.
"We try to make a lot of our offense out of our defense," Fischer explained. "We've been doing good job of that for a while now. But the real key has been Graham. He's become a real inside force for us and is playing outstanding down there."
Soffel, who though not particularly large plays that way under the hoop, cleared space and made himself a big target in the midst of the Hornets' 2-3 zone. And with teammates like brother Will Soffel, who finished just shy of a triple-double with 11 points to go along with 10 rebounds, nine assists and six steals, that have the ability to spot him and then feed him the ball, Graham had a solid first half.
The former guard (he switched to the post just two games ago), poured in all 19 of his points over the game's first 16 minutes, scoring 11 in the second quarter, seven of which came during the crucial 25-0 run. He also hauled in six rebounds.
"He's changed our whole offense," Fischer said. "Now that we've moved him down inside it's kind of opened up our game a little bit."
As Graham Soffel took care of things in the paint, Aaron Germain was the main beneficiary of the press and the turnover-prone Hornets' offense. Germain finished with 10 steals, which allowed him to sink a game-high 20 points - 12 of which came off the steal and subsequent fast-break layup.
"We played really well in the first half," Fischer said, "but I give the Forestville kids credit because they just kept playing hard. That's the sign of a bunch of winners, they played very hard and they never quit."
Despite the insurmountable odds - Forestville trailed 52-12 at the break - the Hornets improved once the Red Dragons eased up on the full-court pressure. The visitors, who were led by Paul Davis' and Caleb Makuch's eight points apiece, kept pace with Maple Grove in the third period to make the score 65-24, and then enjoyed their best period of the night in the fourth when they outscored the hosts, 16-8, over the final eight minutes.
Maple Grove will be looking to make in nine straight Division 3 victories on Feb. 1 when it travels to Franklinville. Forestville, meanwhile, will be looking to snap its seven-game slide on the same day at Westfield.
Davis 4 0 8, Szumigala 2 1 5, Makuch 4 0 8, Hooper 0 2 2, Nosbisch 1 3 5, Pleva 2 0 6, Stone 3 0 6. Totals 16 6 40.
MAPLE GROVE (73)
Germain 8 3 20, G. Soffel 9 0 19, Georke 3 2 8, Kistner 1 0 2, W. Soffel 4 2 11, Beaton 1 3 5, Ahlstrom 2 0 4, Richardson 0 2 2, Stack 1 0 2. Totals 29 12 73.
3-point goals: Pleva 2, Germain, G. Soffel, W. Soffel.
Forestville8 4 12 16 - 40
Maple Grove23 29 13 8 - 73
Jayvees: Maple Grove won.