BOYS' BASKETBALL: Panthers win RRC showdown
ELLSWORTH -- Throughout the season, Trevor Gruis' teammates on Ellsworth's boys' basketball team poked fun at him for not dunking in games.
The jokes ended Monday night.
Gruis opened the game with a vicious reverse dunk in traffic, setting the tone early in the Panthers' 82-70 victory over Hills-Beaver Creek.
"I didn't know I dunked it until I landed" Gruis said. "Seriously, when I went up, I was like, 'I'm going to do a reverse layup,' and then I was like, 'Wow, I just dunked that.'
"Everybody always calls me a little chicken because I never dunk."
The 6-foot-9 junior center finished the game with 23 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. The numbers -- and the dunk -- are especially impressive considering Gruis spent the majority of his day on Sunday kneeling in front of the toilet.
"I got sick Saturday night," Gruis said. "I went out to eat and, at five in the morning, it didn't turn out too good -- it all came back out.
"I puked a bunch of times, got my stomach pretty much empty, and I still haven't eaten (Monday)."
Added teammate Adam Van Der Stoep: "He's a leader out there. Rain or sun, he's coming to play. He wasn't feeling too well, but we stepped up and did his job. It was probably the most disgusting dunk I've ever seen. It was pretty sweet."
Any lingering sickness wasn't apparent early in the game Monday night.
Gruis lost the opening tip, but he blocked a shot on the game's first possession. On the other end of the floor, he received a pass near the left block. He faked a move into the lane, spun to his right, drove down the baseline, and threw down a hard dunk with his right hand.
"We've been asking him to go up strong every time, and I guess the flu wasn't a factor today when he did that," Ellsworth coach Tyler Morris said. "I got a text from him (Sunday): 'Throwing up all day.' Oh, great, just what we need. But he had some color in his face when he got here (Monday), so I thought, 'OK, we're probably all right.'"
Morris likely knew that Gruis' presence was crucial to Ellsworth's success.
Aside from the Panthers, who entered with a 15-game winning streak, the Patriots clearly were the hottest team in the Red Rock Conference.
The Patriots entered the night having won 14 of 15 games since starting the season 1-4. They also were riding an 11-game winning streak, during which they outscored opponents by an average of 18 points per game.
They carried the momentum into Monday night's game.
Gruis scored 10 points in the first 9:17 to help Ellsworth take a 20-9 lead, and he later assisted on a Casey Schilling layup to give the Panthers a 27-18 lead with six minutes remaining in the half. But H-BC battled back, going on an 18-9 run to tie the game at 36-36 entering the intermission.
The Patriots had an answer for Ellsworth's first three buckets of the second half, leading to ties on three occasions. But Gruis scored on a jump hook, and Matt Buntjer scored on back-to-back offensive-rebound baskets to give the Panthers a 48-42 lead.
From there, it seemed like Ellsworth had an answer for every big H-BC basket.
Colton Bass drilled a deep 3-pointer to pull the Patriots to within two points with 11:27 remaining, but Buntjer responded with a layup off a feed from Gruis.
Andrew Scholten converted a three-point play to pull the Patriots to within three points with 9:08 remaining, but Dalton Huisman answered with a 3-pointer from the corner to push Ellsworth's lead to six.
The Patriots never got any closer.
The Panthers went 6-for-9 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 from the free-throw line in the final eight minutes to seal their 47th consecutive conference victory.
"Our defense always sparks our offense," Van Der Stoep said. "Once we get our defense going, shots fall easier. It all starts with our defense. It wasn't there in the first half, but we got it going in the second half."
Van Der Stoep had 12 points, five assists and two steals, and Schilling had 16 points and nine rebounds.
Buntjer added 12 points, 11 rebounds -- eight offensive -- and seven assists.
"Matt's the kind of guy who doesn't put up big stats, usually," Morris said, referring to the junior forward. "A lot of what he does kind of goes unnoticed, but he's one of those guys in practice we're always pointing to, 'OK, close out the way Matt did.' We'll stop and show how Matt does things. He gives great effort all the time, and he's just one of those guys who might not put up great stats, but we need him in the lineup."
Buntjer played defense against Terence Reid for the majority of the game, holding the H-BC senior guard to 14 points.
Scholten scored 11, and Heath Van Wyhe added 10 for the Patriots (15-5, 9-4).
Halden Van Wyhe finished with a team-high 23 points, but he made just one of his last seven attempts from the field.
H-BC 36 34 -- 70
Ellsworth 36 46 -- 82
H-BC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): He. Van Wyhe 0-4-2-10, Ha. Van Wyhe 2-7-3-23, Bass 2-1-0-8, Reid 1-5-1-14, Van Batavia 0-2-0-4, Scholten 0-4-3-11. Totals: 5-23-9-70.
ELLSWORTH (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Nolte 0-2-1-5, Schilling 2-6-0-18, Van Der Stoep 1-2-5-12, Huisman 2-0-4-10, Gruis 0-11-1-23, Buntjer 0-5-2-12, Chapa 0-1-0-2. Totals: 5-27-13-82.