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Panthers knock off Eagles, 73-61

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MARSHALL -- The game plan for the Southwest Christian Eagles was simple: limit Ellsworth's top scorers as best they could, get solid scoring production from senior Alex Huisken and leave it all on the court.

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The Eagles' plan worked well for about 22 minutes, but in the end, Ellsworth proved too much for SWC as the Panthers knocked off the Eagles, 73-61, to claim their third consecutive Sub-Section 3A South boys' basketball title Saturday evening at Southwest Minnesota State University.

With the victory, the Panthers (27-2) advance to the Section 3A championship game against the Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks (23-5) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at SMSU in Marshall.

The Eagles end their season with a 20-6 record.

"Yeah, I thought we were going to get 'em," SWC head coach Jamie Pap said following the game. "I thought I had a game plan set up that would work, but give Ellsworth all the credit in the world, they played a good game."

The contest began in a similar fashion to the teams' previous two meetings, as Ellsworth jumped out to a quick lead with Trevor Gruis working hard inside and Cody Schilling and Adam Van Der Stoep knocking down shots from the perimeter.

"We wanted to work the ball inside to help open things up on the outside," Gruis explained.

Huisken answered for the Eagles, but with five minutes gone, SWC trailed by eight, 16-8.

Following a 14-foot jumper by the Eagles' Ryan Pronk and an inside bucket from Huisken, the Panthers extended their lead to 11 points with a trey from Schilling (game-high 36 points and a team-high 11 rebounds) a deuce from Weston DeBerg and a pair of foul shots by Gruis (21 points, six rebounds) -- giving Ellsworth a 23-12 advantage with 8:30 to go in the opening frame.

That's when the game plan kicked in for the Eagles.

Over the next four minutes, the Eagles put together a 13-0 run, fueled by the perimeter shooting of center Tyler Mouw (10 points). The 6-6 senior hit a medium-range jumper from the left wing and followed with a pair of treys from the top of the arc. Trevor Holm also found the mark, and Huisken hit a short jumper followed by a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Eagles a 27-23 lead -- prompting Ellsworth head coach Markus Okeson to call a quick timeout.

"At that point, we had all the momentum and were playing really well defensively," Pap said. "But the Panthers ... they responded like they always do."

Indeed, the Panthers came roaring back with three buckets by Gruis, a trey from Van Der Stoep and a buzzer-beater from Schilling to end the half on a 14-4 run and carry a 37-31 lead into the locker room at intermission.

"Coming in, we knew it was going to be a game of big runs, and it was in the first half," Okeson said. "(In) the second half, it seemed like we settled down and played with the lead the whole second half."

Try as they might, the Eagles just couldn't put together a big run during the final 18 minutes.

Huisken (game-high 17 rebounds and three blocks and a team-high 35 points) kept the Eagles from getting blown out in the second half with buckets from all angles, inside and out. Tommy Van't Hof was fearless in heading to the hoop for a pair of field goals, and Mike Vander Veen hit a 3-pointer off the bench to keep the contest close.

But with three minutes remaining and a 10-point advantage, Schilling and the Panthers stood tall on defense, took care of the basketball and made their foul shots to win a 73-61 decision.

"We knew it was going to be a battle and a game of big runs," Schilling said. "It's Ellsworth/Southwest Christian, what can you say? Weston and I have been here before, and Gruis (sophomore) plays like a senior. Everybody just keeps stepping up to the challenge. We knew there would be runs on both sides, but we kept our cool and were able to refocus when we needed to."

The Panthers will now prepare for the Camden Conference champion Blackjacks. Dawson-Boyd, while not the tallest of teams, moves the ball well and can hit shots from the perimeter at will.

"We definitely have to get out on their shooters," Okeson said. "They have two kids that can bomb it in from anywhere, so we have to get in their faces otherwise they'll make life difficult."

SWC 31 30 -- 61

Ellsworth 37 36 -- 73

SWC (3FG-2FG-FG-TP): Huisken 2-12-5-35, Mouw 2-1-0-10, Pronk 0-3-0-6, Van't Hof 0-2-0-4, Vander Veen 1-0-1-4, Holm 0-1-0-2. Totals - 5-20-6-61.

Ellsworth (3FG-2FG-FG-TP): Schilling 4-7-10-36, T. Gruis 0-9-3-21, Van Der Stoep 2-0-0-6, Hinrichs 0-2-1-5, B. Gruis 1-0-0-3, DeBerg 0-1-0-2. Totals - 7-19-14-73.

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