BOYS' BASKETBALL: Panthers win 11th straight
ELLSWORTH -- Friday night's Red Rock Conference boys' basketball game in Ellsworth featured two teams going in opposite directions.
When the dust settled, nothing had changed.
Tom Nolte scored a game-high 16 points, and Trevor Gruis and Casey Schilling each added 15 to lead Ellsworth to a 65-45 victory over Westbrook-Walnut Grove.
It was the 11th consecutive victory for the Panthers, who started the season 3-2 but haven't lost since.
"We're used to playing with each other now; we know where everybody's at," Gruis said. "We're starting to roll now at the right time."
It's been just the opposite for Westbrook-Walnut Grove
W-WG won its first 10 games of the season, beating opponents by an average score of 78-45, and was ranked No. 6 in Class A. Since then, the Chargers have lost six of their past seven games. Friday night's defeat was their fifth consecutive loss.
"We've been on the road a lot -- not that that's an excuse," W-WG coach Derrick Jenniges said. "We got some things to work out, and I think we were playing a little too casual early in the season and were able to sneak by with a few wins.
"We have some things to shore up. Obviously, you don't want to lose six of seven, but it's not a huge concern if the kids will work hard and come back to work every day."
The Chargers went to work in the first half Friday, holding Ellsworth to 27 points on 38.4 percent shooting (10-for-26) from the field.
The Panthers never trailed in the first 18 minutes, but they were unable to pull away.
W-WG committed four turnovers and missed five of its first nine shots but only trailed by two, 10-8, ten minutes into the first half. But Ellsworth answered with an offensive explosion, scoring eight points in 35 seconds to take an 18-10 lead.
Freshman guard Dalton Huisman drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner and, after a basket on the other end by W-WG's Jace Jarmer, he drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner. Moments later, Nolte recorded a steal near midcourt and raced the other way for a layup.
"Dalton was open -- they didn't find him in the corner," Morris said. "And we're constantly telling him to shoot -- 'Do what you do: shoot' -- and he did."
The sequence forced W-WG to call a timeout, and it swung all of the momentum in Ellsworth's favor.
That Panthers, who took a 27-19 lead into halftime, carried the momentum into the second half.
Junior guard Mason Comnick scored his second basket of the half on a seemingly impossible reverse layup to pull W-WG to within eight points, 32-24, with 14:18 remaining, but Ellsworth responded with a 16-0 run to take control.
Nolte answered Comnick's basket with a 3-pointer, and Gruis made back-to-back buckets in the paint. After Nolte went 2-for-2 from the line, Schilling recorded a steal and layup. Huisman then drilled a deep 3-pointer, and Schilling followed with an easy layup in transition.
Ellsworth's game-changing run spanned 4:39, and the Chargers were unable to recover.
"We just cranked up the defensive pressure, and I think that helped our offense quite a bit," Gruis said. "They say defense sparks your offense."
The Panthers shot 51.6 percent (16-for-31) from the field in the second half and held W-WG to just 27.2 percent (9-for-33).
"They're a really good team, and you can't make mistakes on either end," Jenniges said. "Offensively, we couldn't spring anyone free; we weren't setting good enough screens. Defensively, we just lost communication. If you lose communication, they're going to execute every time.
"They're very disciplined, and tonight we weren't very disciplined."
Nolte, who went 6-for-9 shooting from the field, added six rebounds and four steals. Gruis, a 6-foot-9 junior center, had 13 rebounds and eight assists for Ellsworth, which outrebounded W-WG 37-26.
"It's nice to have Trevor on the team; it's nice to have a 6-9 guy," Schilling said. "He's a good passer, and whenever you're open, he's going to find you."
Schilling added three steals and, along with Huisman, didn't play like a freshman.
"Those freshmen have been doing some good things for us this year," Morris said. "Casey does not play like a freshman. He can hit the 3, he can go inside, he's got a nice midrange game, he cuts well, and he rebounds. He can do it all."
Ellsworth (14-2, 10-0), which stands in first place in the Red Rock Conference, will put its winning streak on the line today against host Remsen St. Mary's (Iowa).
"We're playing better now," Schilling said. "And, like we say, the most important game on the schedule is the game we're playing right now. It's one game at a time."
Comnick scored 14 points, and Jarmer and Jon LeBoutillier each added 11 to lead W-WG (11-6, 7-4), which will attempt to snap its skid Thursday against host Murray County Central.
"Westbrook is still a tough team," Morris said. "They've dropped some games recently, but they're going to be a scary matchup for someone in sections. So I wouldn't write them off yet at all."
W-WG 19 26 -- 45
Ellsworth 27 38 -- 65
W-WG (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Comnick 2-4-0-14, J. Jarmer 0-5-1-11, LeBoutillier 0-4-3-11, Eichner 1-0-1-4, McClellan 0-0-2-2, M. Jarmer 0-0-1-1, Theisen 0-1-0-2. Totals: 3-14-8-45.
ELLSWORTH (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Nolte 1-5-3-16, Gruis 0-7-1-15, Schilling 1-5-2-15, Huisman 3-0-0-9, Buntjer 0-2-1-5, Van Der Stoep 1-0-0-3, Chapa 0-1-0-2. Totals: 6-20-7-65.