SOUTH BELOIT — Scales Mound, the third-smallest basketball school in the state with 70 students, was state-ranked for the first time in school history this week. The No. 5-ranked Hornets even drew three first-place votes.
They will probably draw more next week. And they will certainly move at least one spot higher in the polls after taking down No. 4 South Beloit 47-37 Saturday afternoon.
South Beloit has been working toward this for years, with five players — four of them standing between 6-foot-2 and 6-4 — playing varsity for all four years and all five of them being the team’s top five scorers since they were sophomores and the team won a school-record 24 games.
One town, one sport: Inside the success of Scales Mound boys basketball
“You want to get to the next level,” coach Erik Kudronowicz said. “This is a group that we thought could do that. But what is getting to the next level? It’s winning that conference championship. It’s playing at the sectional or supersectional round. It’s also being state ranked.
“That’s something that Scales Mound basketball has never been. So to see ourselves ranked this week and to get that respect state wide is something special and something we have all worked really, really hard to achieve.”
The Hornets won this game primarily with defense, making South Beloit shoot from outside, where the Sobos finished 5-for-29 on 3-pointers.
“Our defense has been good all year,” Kudronowicz said. “That’s a big part of the reason we are where we are at 12-0. Defense always travels.”
South Beloit also struggled to shoot from outside in its only other loss, a two-point setback to East Dubuque.
“For teams that really want to take away our bigs in the post, we have to be better about making shots and making better decisions with our entry feeds,” South Beloit coach Matt Stucky said. “We weren’t working the ball inside."
Ben Werner led Scales Mound with 17 points. Benjamin Vandigo added 13, Sam Cocagne eight and Zayden Ellsworth seven.
Scales Mound (12-0) came in averaging 76.4 points a game and allowing 44.9. Not only were the Hornets winning by an average of more than 31 points a game, their only contest decided by single digits was a 67-62 win over NUIC West rival Galena (12-4) in their first game as a Class 1A-ranked team earlier this week.
South Beloit (12-2) has won only one regional title in the last 40 years, when it went a school-record 28-2 in 2009.
South Beloit jumped to an early 7-2 lead and led as late as 9-5, making three of its first five shots. But the Sobos missed their last nine shots of the first quarter as Scales Mound went on a 14-2 push to open a 16-9 lead.
The Hornets maintained their seven-point lead at halftime. South Beloit struggled to get the ball inside to 6-7 freshman Ross Robertson (two first-half points) and 6-5, 300-pound senior center Brad Knepper (four first-half points) and relied instead on 3s. Blake Ayotte made 3 of 7 from 3-point range in the first half to score nine points, but the rest of the Sobos were 0-for-9 from 3-point range the first two quarters.
Ayotte finished with 11 points to lead South Beloit. Knepper (eight) and Robertson (six) had only 14 points, but combined for six blocked shots.
But Scales Mound came in prepared for them, playing against a team with a 6-8 center and 6-4 forward in their Wisconsin holiday tournament title game.
“That’s why you want those games, to see those elements,” Kudronowicz said. “You want to see these things throughout the course of the year so you know what to work on.”
Scales Mound also showed the Sobos what they need to work on if they want to win their first sectional title since 1975.
"It doesn't get much better than Scales Mound," Stucky said, "not just what they have this year but what they've been the last several years. They've been together so long. They've got the makeup of a team that goes downstate or makes it to a supersectional, One that makes runs, because they can do a little of everything."
South Beloit, on the other hand, has to find a way to do more on offense against tough teams. They were held to 30 points in their only other loss, to another team with tall guards as well as decent inside height, 32-30 to East Dubuque.
"When we execute offensively, we're tough to beat," Stucky said. " But there are times when we don't attack as much or are a little loose with the ball. Each possession has to mean something."
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Scales Mound basketball wins top-5 state matchup against South Beloit