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BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Ellsworth Panther Drew Cheskie (51) drives to the basket in front of H-BC Patriot Zach Scholten Tuesday.

Section 3A boys basketball: Ellsworth starts fast, holds off H-BC surge

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WORTHINGTON —Tuesday night’s second Section 3A South’s semifinal game between long-time rivals Ellsworth and Hills-Beaver Creek was not decided until the closing seconds when a pair of Patriot three-point attempts rimmed in and out, sending the Panthers (21-6) to the sub-section finals where they will tangle with defending Class A state champion Southwest Christian.

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Leading all the way — although not by much most of the second half —Ellsworth prevailed with a 51-48 triumph, as the trio of Drew Cheskie, Johnathon Kramer and Justin Kruse came up big time after time for the Panthers.

The Patriots, who finish another highly-competitive season with an 11-12 overall mark, rallied behind 12 second-half points —and several rebounds — from 6-1 junior guard Braden Ellingson, who connected on a pair of three-pointers and was a perfect four-of-four from the free throw line after intermission.

Kramer was the catalyst early for the Panthers, scoring the game’s first six points — on three-pointers from each wing — before dishing off a trio of assists (two to Cheskie and one to Kruse). After four minutes and 18 seconds of action, Kramer had netted eight points (he also hit a 10-foot pull-up jump shot), along with his three assists, a defensive rebound and a steal, sparking the Panthers to a 14-2 lead.

“Johnathon has been phenomenal the last couple of games,” praised EHS head coach JD Roberts about his 5-7 senior playmaker. “He is smart and nifty and knows where he wants the ball to go.”

H-BC freshman Andrew Scholten scored the Patriots’ first field goal at the 12:35 mark and Dylan Gehrke quickly followed with a bucket. Kramer’s fourth assist — to Tim Nolte for a baseline basket — increased Ellsworth’s lead to 17-7 and back-to-back left-side offensive rebound baskets by Kruse (10 points, four rebounds) lifted the Panthers to a huge 21-7 advantage with 10:22 on the first-half clock.

The Patriots rallied with driving buckets by Isaac Tilstra and Gehrke, but Cheskie (game-high 21 points, nine rebounds) put the Panthers back up by 10. He later scored on another drive, giving Ellsworth a 30-17 lead with 4:31 left.

A pair of three-pointers from Mitchell Leuthold — who also had a nice inside pass to Cheskie for one hoop and a long inbounds pass to Cheskie for another score — helped Ellsworth take a 35-22 advantage into intermission.

Patriots stroke four early

three-pointers to trigger

second-half rally

Down by 13, the Patriots changed their plan of attack as the second half began.

Starting with a trey by Ellingson and another from Noah Holthaus, H-BC quickly trimmed the lead to seven. Cheskie countered for the Panthers, but Carey Taubert drilled a three-pointer for the Patriots and then Ellingson drilled another one — falling down from the left corner — and with 14:30 remaining it was a three-point game, 37-34.

Again, Cheskie scored for the Panthers, but Taubert answered with a pair of free throws keeping the spread at three.

A nifty feed from Kramer (10 points, seven assists) to Kruse put Ellsworth up five and — after a timeout by Roberts — Cheskie drained a 15-footer from the left elbow after the Panthers patiently worked a flex-offense option. A bit later, Cheskie passed to Kruse down low for a slam dunk, lifting EHS to a nine-point lead (45-36) with 10:32 remaining.

But the Patriots were not finished. Gehrke (16 points) scored twice in the lane (assists from Tilstra and Ellingson) before a pair of free throws by Ellingson sliced the gap to 45-42 with 7:52 left.

A steal and layup by Cheskie put the Panthers back up five and a pull-up jumper — driving to the left —by Kramer increased the lead to seven (49-42) at the 4:58 mark.

Two more free throws by the hard-working Ellingson (16 points) were followed by a driving floater from Gehrke and an inside bucket from Ellingson (assist Taubert), bringing the Patriots within one point (49-48) with 2:51 to play.

Thirty-five seconds later, Nolte (assist Kramer) scored the game’s final points on a 13-footer from the right elbow.

Ellsworth, with the ball frequently in Kramer’s hands, worked the clock and none of H-BC’s last field goal attempts —including a pair of three-point tries in the final 10 seconds —would fall.

“Give Hills a lot of credit,” summed up Roberts. “Those kids really played well and came back strong. Sometimes, a little luck helps and we had enough to win again and have another chance to play.”

Friday’s championship game tips off at 6 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Hills-Beaver Creek 22 48

Ellsworth 35 51

H-BC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Ellingson 2-2-6-16, Gehrke 0-7-2-16, Tilstra 0-1-0-2, Scholten 0-1-0-2, Holthaus 1-0-0-3, Taubert 1-1-4-9. Totals 4-12-12-48.

ELLSWORTH (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Nolte 0-2-0-4, Kramer 2-2-0-10, M. Leuthold 2-0-0-6, Kruse 0-5-0-10, Cheskie 0-10-1-21. Totals 4-19-1-51.

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