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Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The Panthers' D'Shaun Herman (41) shoots over the Patriots' Carey Taubert (35) during Friday night's Red Rock Conference boys' basketball game in Ellsworth.

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Patriots hand Panthers 10th conference loss of the season

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ELLSWORTH -- Hills-Beaver Creek's Jeff Sandbulte produced 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead the Patriots to a 69-58 Red Rock Conference boys basketball victory over the Ellsworth Panthers Friday night.

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"I just try to be a team player," said Sandbulte, a 6-foot senior guard. "(Friday) was making shots. I really wanted to get a win here."

The Patriots' win avenges an earlier loss to the Panthers (60-57 in Hills on Jan. 15). With the win Friday, Hills-Beaver Creek improved to 12-10 overall and kept pace with Red Rock Central for third place in the league at 9-6.

"(Ellsworth) always plays good against us because we are rivals," Sandbulte added. "We always try to compete to our best ability. They always shoot well (at home) and they were coming off a three-overtime win over Edgerton. We just needed to play great defense because we knew they would make shots."

Sandbulte delivered a balanced scoring line with 16 points in the first half and the balance in the final 18 minutes.

Following an opening 7 minutes of the contest that saw the teams knotted at 12, a Jon Gallagher make from the left block sparked a 14-2 run over the next 5 minutes that was capped off by a Sandbulte 3 from the left wing with 6 minutes, 19 seconds before intermission. Gallagher, a 6-7 senior, finished with a game-high nine rebounds and added eight points.

Dan Kramer, who scored a team-high 17 points and added four assists and three steals, gave Ellsworth its only lead of the game (5-4) 2 minutes in when he buried a 3 from atop the key off an assist from John Kramer (eight points, six assists).

After falling behind by 12, a pair of 3's from Mitch Leuthold (16 points, five assists) along with a transition basket by Justin Kruse helped the Panthers cut the lead to six (28-22) with 4:36 left in the opening half.

"The kids played well," H-BC head coach Steve Wiertzema said. "When we let them close (the gap) each time, we were making mistakes -- either have a turnover or miss a defensive assignment. (Ellsworth) is too good of a team to let you do that. They hit the 3's at home really well. Every time we would get a lead, they would bang in a couple 3's."

However, each time Ellsworth, which made 11 3's in the game, cut the deficit, the Patriots responded. In the final minute of the half, a pair of offensive rebounds kept a Panthers' possession alive that was finished off by a Dan Kramer 3 with 35 seconds left. Dalton Bass answered for Hills-Beaver Creek right before the buzzer with a turnaround jumper from the free-throw line to give the Patriots a 37-29 lead at the break.

The Panthers came out of the intermission and cut the lead to four points on two occasions (45-41 with 13:21 left after a Dan Kramer free throw and 47-43 at 12:05 on a Drew Cheskie drive through the paint), only to see the Patriots respond to keep separation with the hosts.

A John Kramer 3 for Ellsworth was answered by a left-wing 3 from Bass before Sandbulte scored the next five H-BC points on a pair of drives and a free throw to push the margin back to 10 (56-46) with 6:53 to play.

Dan Kramer made another triple 30 seconds later, but two free throws from Dylan Gehrke and a conventional 3-point play by Sandbulte at 3:46 again kept the Panthers at bay after Tim Nolte scored for Ellsworth on a putback. Gehrke had seven points in each half to finish with 14 to go along with six rebounds.

Sandbulte's field goal was the final one of the game for the Patriots as the visitors finished the game at the charity stripe. The Panthers' scoring in the final 3 minutes came as Dan Kramer scored on a drive, Leuthold dropped a 3 from the right corner and D'Shaun Herman and Cole Meester each added a free throw.

Hills-Beaver Creek made 19 of 27 free throws in the game, but went 8-for-14 in the closing minutes, while Ellsworth, which didn't attempt a shot from the stripe in the first half, finished the game 3-for-10 at the free-throw line.

"That's kind of how the whole year has been," Ellsworth head coach JD Roberts said. "If we would've been making some free throws in a lot of the games we've played, it could be a different story. We've been working on (free throws) all year long and we just haven't been able to put them in the hole."

The Patriots also outrebounded the hosts by a 35-30 margin.

"We did a real nice job rebounding," Wiertzema said. "We are a little outsized by (Ellsworth), but I thought our guys did a great job of boxing them out and keeping them off the boards. We went with a little more quickness at the end of the game and we were a little small, but I thought our guys did a great job."

While Ellsworth finished with more steals (5) and fewer turnovers (9) than H-BC (3 and 12, respectively), Roberts said that the Patriots outhustled the Panthers.

"(Hills-Beaver Creek) got a lot of the loose balls," he said. "They got the majority of the hustle plays. (The Patriots) deserved to win, they outplayed us (Friday)."

Ellsworth ended its regular season with a 7-18 overall mark and a 6-10 record in the Red Rock. The Panthers are seeded No. 8 in the Section 3A South tournament and host No. 9 Wabasso in Ellsworth on Thursday.

Hills-Beaver Creek wraps up its regular season on Monday with a home conference game with Westbrook-Walnut Grove. The Patriots are the fourth-seed in the Section 3A South playoffs and play the No. 5 Fulda Raiders on March 2 in Worthington.

"(This win) is momentum," Sandbulte said. "We're getting better and hopefully with our next game, we'll get even better for tournament time."

The Patriots have won 7 of their last 8 games with the only loss coming against conference-leading Southwest Christian.

"Our kids are starting to play well," Wiertzema said. "We are playing well together and we are shooting the ball well. We are moving better and playing much better defense than we were earlier in the season."

HILLS-BEAVER CREEK 69,

ELLSWORTH 58

HILLS-BEAVER CREEK (12-10, 9-6): Gehrke 2 9-10 14, Ellingson 0 1-2 1, Bass 2 1-4 6, Wagenaar 1 0-0 2, Sandbulte 12 4-7 30, Kerkhove-Brandt 0 0-0 0, Taubert 2 4-4 8, Gallagher 4 0-0 8. Totals: 23-52 (44%) 19-27 (70%) 69.

ELLSWORTH (7-18, 6-10): Meester 0 1-2 1, Nolte 2 0-0 5, J. Kramer 3 0-1 8, D. Kramer 6 1-2 17, Leuthold 6 0-0 16, Herman 0 1-2 1, Kruse 2 0-1 4, Cheskie 3 0-2 6. Totals: 22-61 (36%) 3-10 (30%).

Hills-Beaver Creek 37 32 -- 69

Ellsworth 29 29 -- 58

3-Point Goals: H-BC 4 (Sandbulte 2, Gehrke, Bass); Ellsworth 11 (D. Kramer 4, Leuthold 4, J. Kramer 2, Nolte). Rebounds: H-BC 35 (Gallagher 9, Sandbulte 7, Gehrke 6); Ellsworth 30 (Nolte 7, Kruse 6). Total Fouls (Fouled Out): H-BC 15 (None); Ellsworth 19 (Nolte, J. Kramer). Technical Fouls: None. Assists: H-BC 10 (Sandbulte 5); Ellsworth 15 (J. Kramer 6, Leuthold 5, D. Kramer 4). Steals: H-BC 3 (Ellingson, Sandbulte, Taubert); Ellsworth 5 (D. Kramer 3). Blocked Shots: H-BC 1 (Taubert); Ellsworth 0 (None). Turnovers: H-BC 12, Ellsworth 9.

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