Boys basketball: Eagles win clash of top 10 teams
ELLSWORTH — A spoonful of defensive tenacity made the buckets go down for Southwest Christian in a battle of top 10 boys basketball teams at Ellsworth Thursday.
In what has become a rivalry between a couple of Red Rock Conference teams who have each laid claim to their share of state tournament hardware over the years, Class A’s sixth-rated Eagles cruised early and picked up a 78-60 road win over the 10th-ranked Panthers.
“I still give the credit to our defense because it led us the whole way,” SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. “It’s a big win for us. They haven’t been beaten by anybody else in the conference but us. They have a big game coming up with Mountain Lake Area and I expect them to have a good game with them.”
Defense fed offense from the opening tip for Southwest Christian as it opened an early 15-2 lead and held Ellsworth to just one bucket in the game’s opening four minutes.
The Panthers cut the big lead to only seven points, at 32-25, before Southwest senior Nate Pfeifle answered three straight stops by Ellsworth with two of his three first-half three pointers just inside two minutes left in the first half.
“With a team like Southwest Christian, they’re impossible to beat if you’ve given up 40 points at halftime,” Ellsworth head coach JD Roberts said of the game his team trailed in 40-29 at intermission. “You’ve got to take something away from them and tonight we just couldn’t do it.”
While Pfeifle hit his shots from the outside, the Panthers had fewer answers for Southwest’s 6-5 post, Leighton Sampson. The senior hit from every direction in the win, scoring 10 points in the first half on his way to 30 for the evening. He coupled that with six rebounds. He was a huge factor as the Eagles pulled away late for good, answering a late rally by Ellsworth with a dunk by him and a three-pointer from Pfeifle.
“We’re happy with this win over Ellsworth. It’s a big rivalry and they’re good competition,” Sampson said. “We played good help defense tonight and our teammates always had our backs.”
Eagles junior Jay DeBoer handed out eight assists in the game and senior Clayton Huisken had five. Ellsworth was spearheaded with senior Drew Cheskie’s 21 points and 10 boards. Junior center Justin Kruse offered 19 and Leuthold 14.
“They played fantastic defense and shot 59 percent,” Roberts said of SWC. “We tried to do some things differently in the first half to slow down Sampson. We couldn’t do that and nobody has been able to do it yet.”
Thursday’s game was significant because of its implications on the Red Rock Conference. The Eagles (now 11-2 and 8-1 in the Red Rock Conference) now take sole possession of second place in the league behind Mountain Lake Area, the state’s third-ranked team in Class A. Ellsworth (13-4, 9-2 in the RRC) entertains MLA tonight while Southwest Christian hosts crosstown Edgerton Saturday evening.
“It’s a rivalry, but they’re struggling a little bit this year,” Pap said of the game with Edgerton. “Who knows what will happen. The gym will be packed and it will be a fun atmosphere.”
Southwest Christian 40 78
Ellsworth 29 60