Carlton senior Ben Soderstrom scored 32 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 75-66 Polar League home win over Two Harbors Thursday, Jan. 2.

Eight of Soderstrom’s points came early in the second half when the Agates had trimmed the Carlton lead to three points. The outburst powered a 15-3 run for the Bulldogs that gave the team a 64-49 lead with about eight minutes to play.

Soderstrom is still getting back into playing shape after missing all of last season with a broken leg, according to Carlton coach Shawn Filipiak.

“He totally changed the game with his rebounding, his defensive presence and obviously offensively, but he still hasn’t hit his ceiling yet,” Filipiak said. “I would say if I had to grade him on being healthy and being ready to go, he’s probably 75%. His leg is giving him issues here and there, and he’s not in the best shape yet because of the leg.

"He makes a huge difference with our team because of his size and his athleticism and his basketball IQ, too.”

The Agates tried to slow down Soderstrom, but lacked the size to mount an effective defense.

“The big guy hurt us,” coach Gavin Bopp said. “We tried a little bit of going with a zone against him, but that didn’t seem to help too much — we just didn’t have an answer for 6 foot, 6 inches.”

Two Harbors freshman Trent Gomez scored eight of his team-leading 27 points to cut into the Carlton lead in the final minutes, but the Agates couldn’t get closer than seven points.

Two Harbors' Trent Gomez gets past the Carlton defense for a layup during the Agates' 75-66 loss Thursday, Jan. 2. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal
Two Harbors' Trent Gomez gets past the Carlton defense for a layup during the Agates' 75-66 loss Thursday, Jan. 2. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

The Agates came out aggressively in the first half, with Gomez hitting a 3-pointer to give Two Harbors a 17-6 lead with about 11 minutes to play in the half.

Carlton senior Matt Santkuyl led the Bulldog response, scoring seven points during a 19-2 Bulldog run to give the team a 25-19 lead with about 7 minutes left in the half. Santkuyl finished with 19 points.

Two Harbors is extremely young, with just one senior, Cameron Mackey, seeing significant playing time. Still, coach Gavin Bopp was impressed with the way the young team has played so far, even if their work isn’t translating to wins yet.

“These guys worked their butts off,” Bopp said. “What I don’t want them to do is hang their head and get used to this. If they are upset after this loss — to me that’s a good thing because they’re not numb to losing.”

Carlton's Matthew Santkuyl scores between Two Harbors's Trent Gomez (2) and Jerrad Hiukka the Bulldogs' home win Thursday, Jan. 2. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal
Carlton's Matthew Santkuyl scores between Two Harbors's Trent Gomez (2) and Jerrad Hiukka the Bulldogs' home win Thursday, Jan. 2. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

Mackey finished the game with 13 points and junior Eli Schlangen had 12.

Filipiak said he is concerned with his team’s tendency to play to the level of the competition they are facing, but the team is consistently improving — particularly defensively — and looking to peak as the Section 7A tournament rolls around in March.

“We’re slowly getting better with our fundamentals and that’s making us a better defensive team,” Filipiak said. “But we still have a problem coming out and playing to other people’s level. I think we have a really great culture and atmosphere, we just need to come out with a more serious attitude and take control of games.”

Carlton (5-4) is next scheduled to play a home game against Floodwood at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3.

Two Harbors (1-7) is next scheduled to play at home against Barnum at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3.

Two Harbors 36-30—66

Carlton 43-32—75

Two Harbors — Trent Gomez 27, Eli Schlangen 12, Cameron Mackey 13, Alex Szendrey 5, Jerrad Hiukka 3, Jeremiah Johnson 4, Eli Wiseman 2. Totals 26 8-16 66.

3-point goals — Gomez 2, Schlangen 2, Mackey.

Carlton — Ben Soderstrom 32, Ryan Gray 13, Matthew Santkuyl 19, Justin Swanson 4, Adam Hey 3, Austin Parker 2, Caide Northrup 2. Totals 32 9-13 75.

3-point goals — Gray, Hey.