Fifth-grade cagers, in front from left, are Takoda Boyd, Noah Elton, Calvin Sylling and Camron Sylling. In back are assistant coach Connie Strinmoen, Alex Folz, Kai Bjerke, Ethan Matzke, Corbin Moser and head coach Gary Strinmoen. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
Fifth-grade cagers, in front from left, are Takoda Boyd, Noah Elton, Calvin Sylling and Camron Sylling. In back are assistant coach Connie Strinmoen, Alex Folz, Kai Bjerke, Ethan Matzke, Corbin Moser and head coach Gary Strinmoen.

A group of fifth-grade boys from Spring Grove capped a spectacular 24-1 basketball season with the championship of the Pacesetter Minnesota Invitational Tournament (MIT) at St. Joseph on June 30. Previously, SG went undefeated in two leagues.

Coached by Gary and Connie Strinmoen, the Lions began the season with a perfect 14-0 record in the Southeast Minnesota Youth Basketball League. The boys played two games on Saturdays throughout January and February.

In May, Spring Grove won all eight games in another league at Central High School in La Crosse, Wis.

In between those two league slates, the Lions embarked on their state playoff journey at the Pacesetter Region One Tournament in Rochester on April 1.

They defeated Bethlehem Academy of Faribault 37-28 in the quarterfinals before dropping their only game of the year in the semi-finals to the Minneapolis Grizzlies 30-24.

Those big-city Grizzlies would go on to win not only the region championship but also the state title.

But that six-point decision against Spring Grove would be their closest call in the playoffs with the other victories coming by 26 (versus Caledonia), 13, 10, 22 and finally 17 points over Ada-Borup in the state championship game.

The Lions came back to win the Region One third-place game over Waseca, 41-34. Only one loss at region qualified the Lions for the MIT.

There, SG received a first round bye before posting a 41-24 quarterfinal victory over St. Mary's of Breckinridge.

A 31-9 semi-final flogging of a team from Mankato sent the young Lions into the championship game against Northwood of Duluth.

After falling behind Northwood 6-0, the Grove guys took command on the way to a convincing 35-21 MIT title triumph.

"I am very proud of this bunch of fifth grade boys," said Gary Strinmoen. "It has been an honor to be their coach. Thank you to all the parents for running their kids to practice and all your support."

He foresees some exciting years of basketball ahead for a group of athletes who have already earned some impressive state-competition credentials.