By RYAN SCHLEICHER - Sun FOCUS Newspapers
Irondale Knights head basketball coach Jon DeMars knows his team has a lot of heart by the way they play.
There’s a culture instilled on this team that is made evident by the core and not gauged by wins and losses. The core is made up by three seniors: Jordan Boll, a scrappy player who creates havoc with his hustle on defense, quick hands, and relentlessness to drive the ball to the hoop; Ben Ojika, a player who stares down the back of the net with a potent jump shot paired with explosiveness to drive the basketball; and, Jack Martinek, a lengthy player who can score, grab rebounds, and carry the team on his back even when they need it most.
Coach DeMars calls Martinek, “one of the team’s best scorers” and, “that his size provides him opportunities at the basket.” Martinek is averaging just over 24 points per game this season. When Irondale (4-8-0; 0-3) went up against Winona (6-8-0; 3-3), Martinek broke out and proved his coach’s words exactly right. In a game where no one else on Irondale was able to step up, Martinek broke through with a 37-point performance to give the Knights a 63-45 win.
Martinek nearly outscored the entire Winona team and in fact, Martinek outscored the other combined seven players on his own team who recorded at least a point. The Knights have a chance to break into the win column inside of conference play as they have two-in-conference matchups over the next week when they take on the North Branch Vikings (2-8-0; 1-3) Tuesday night at North Branch High School and then a Friday matchup against a potent Saint Francis (11-1-0; 3-1) team who only has one defeat on the season, falling to Robbinsdale-Cooper.
Reality provides optimism for Columbia Heights
Reality is that the Columbia Heights Hylanders are not getting noticed the way they should be around the North Suburban Conference.
But in a way, that’s just fine by them. Sure, if you look at their scores, they may have a scored a bunch of points so far this season, but they haven’t been a steamroller. But who cares?
The best teams in the state that have the ability to perform in the clutch, and those teams are the ones who are constantly contested every game. And that might be a better description of this Hylanders squad. Out of their eight total wins, the Hylanders have won five of them by 10 points or fewer. Luck has helped a little along the way but that might be all they need to make a deep a run into the conference tournament.
In their last game against Irondale, the Hylanders found a way to squeak out a 63-57 win. The reality is that the Hylanders continue to prove their worth in close contests have them sitting with a very quiet 8-and-3 overall record and a 2-and-1 conference record. That quietness is breading optimism, and that optimism has Columbia Heights a couple key victories away from being the best team in the North Suburban Conference. Columbia Heights will host North Branch (2-8-0; 1-3) on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. in an important North Suburban Conference matchup.
Contact Ryan Schleicher at firstname.lastname@example.org