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Trevor Gruis paces Panthers past Mustangs, 59-41, as Ellsworth advances to Class A semifinals

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MINNEAPOLIS -- After scoring just four points and not being a factor in the section championship, Ellsworth sophomore Trevor Gruis knew he needed a better outing in the first round of the Class A boys' state basketball tournament.

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Gruis responded with a 19-point, 14-rebound double-double to lead the Panthers (29-2) past Granada-Huntley-East Chain, 59-41, Thursday at Mariucci Arena.

"I was kind of coming off a slump, but I think I came out pretty decent," Gruis said. "Coach told me to step up this game and take it at them."

With the victory, the Panthers advance to today's semifinal game against Norman County East at 2 p.m. at the Target Center.

"It's great, and there's nothing better," Adam Van Der Stoep said of the victory. "It's another step closer to where we want to be."

While much of G-H-EC's defensive attention was placed on Cody Schilling Thursday, Gruis scored 14 points in the first half, and Ellsworth had a 35-26 advantage at the break.

"He came out from maybe a little disappointing section championship, and I said that you have to come out and play big," Ellsworth head coach Markus Okeson said of Gruis. "In the first half, he came out and played great."

The Panthers held G-H-EC (25-3) to a mere 15 points on 31 percent shooting in the second half and had a 36-26 rebounding advantage in the game.

"I thought defensively, we played great," Okeson said. "We talked about the state tournament being all about defense and rebounding. We defended well, and we limited them to one shot a lot of times, so we played great defense."

For a Mustang team that sports a balanced attack, Tim Garry and Dan Stensland each scored 12 points to lead G-H-EC.

"We didn't play real well; we had a couple of kids that just didn't play," G-H-EC head coach Robbin Celander said. "(Marcus) Teachout has been sick all week, and he just couldn't stay out there. We took him in and out all day, and that hurt us a little bit. But we didn't play well as a team. We struggled a little bit, but hats off to them."

Schilling, who became the state's all-time scoring leader with 3,367 career points, led all scorers with 23 points. He also pulled down nine rebounds and dished out seven assists.

"Defensively, I think we did all right," Celander said of Schilling. "He didn't have that many assists tonight, and we held him below his points, so I don't think we did too badly on him. He's a nice player and he's definitely what makes them go."

While the Mustangs held Schilling under his 28 points per game average, it was Gruis on the inside that wreaked havoc on an undersized G-H-EC team.

"We struggled a little bit there," Celander said. "Maybe we were concentrating on Schilling too much. Our game plan coming in was to take those three (Schilling, Gruis and Van Der Stoep) out of the game, and make DeBerg and (Brandon) Gruis beat us."

After Schilling and Trevor Gruis combined for the first nine points for Ellsworth, Brandon Gruis hit a trey from the left wing to push Ellsworth's lead to six points at 12-6.

Garry answered with a basket to cut the lead to four, and after a layup from Schilling, Garry hit a pair of free throws to keep the deficit at four points, 14-10.

However, that would be as close as the Mustangs would get in the rest of the game as Tom Nolte hit a trey to push the lead to seven points.

"We just never had a run all day, and you have to give Ellsworth credit," Celander said. "They did a nice job defensively. They are the defending champion, and we didn't have anything to lose. We played a little tight today; I wasn't happy with our effort."

Ben Carlson (seven points) hit a pair of shots to keep the deficit at seven, but an alley-oop dunk from Schilling to Trevor Gruis and a trey from Van Der Stoep quickly pushed the lead to 12 points, 26-14.

"I was a big part of the first half, but I'm not going to take all the credit," Trevor Gruis said. "My team stepped up today, and they hit some big shots."

Stensland hit a trey in the final 1:30 for G-H-EC, but Ellsworth had a 35-26 advantage heading into the break.

It took the teams more than two minutes to score in the second half, as a Trevor Gruis ended the drought with a layup. However, after a shot from Stensland and Garry, it was the Mustangs who struggled to find the basket.

Leading 39-31, the Panthers went on a 16-6 run to push the lead to 18 points, 55-37.

"We didn't make some shots, and we played like we hadn't been here," Celander said. "I think that makes a little difference."

However, with the game in control, the Panthers took advantage of the Mustangs' zone defense to work some time off the clock.

"We had a 12 or 14 point lead with about 10 minutes left, and they were in a zone," Okeson said. "So we were just going to take a couple of minutes off the clock and maybe give ourselves a little blow, too. We didn't have to use a timeout. We ate a little clock time and you do what you have to do to win."

The Panthers scored just four more points in the final 3:29, but with 36 seconds left, Schilling hit the shot that sent him into the record books.

"He's a great player," Celander said. "It doesn't bother me to give it to him. If they want to remember us as far as giving him the record, that's fine, I don't care. He's a good player."

After shooting 45 percent for the game and 27 percent (six-of-22) from beyond the arc, Okeson said the Panthers will have to improve offensively if they want to once again be in the championship game.

"I think offensively we have to stick a couple more shots," Okeson said. "We shot well at times, but there were times that we had open looks that didn't go down. We need to keep up the tight 'D' and defend the glass the best we can."

For the Panthers, today's game can't come soon enough.

"I'm ready to play," Van Der Stoep said. "(We have to) just come focused and hopefully get them tomorrow."

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