PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: SWC knocks off rival EHS 81-66MARSHALL — As they have done all season, the Southwest Christian Eagles utilized another outstanding team performance Saturday evening to claim an 81-66 victory over perennial-rival Ellsworth in the Section 3A South high school boys’ basketball championship game at the tournament-rich R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — As they have done all season, the Southwest Christian Eagles utilized another outstanding team performance Saturday evening to claim an 81-66 victory over perennial-rival Ellsworth in the Section 3A South high school boys’ basketball championship game at the tournament-rich R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
The sub-section title victory by the well-balanced, team-oriented Eagles was SWC’s first post-season championship since 2002 — the year the school won its fourth consecutive Class A state championship.
Sporting a 19-game winning streak, the Eagles (25-1) will tangle with Dawson-Boyd (26-2) in the sectional championship game Thursday (8 p.m.) at SMSU.
The Blackjacks, who have won 18 straight games, defeated defending Section 3A champion MACCRAY in Saturday night’s North Sub-Section title game, 78-62.
The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to the Class A state tournament in Minneapolis March 22-24.
“This was a battle the whole way,” summed up a happy SWC head coach Jamie Pap, who played for the Eagles on their first state title team in 1999.
“You have to give Ellsworth a ton of credit. That team went through adversity with injuries in the middle of the season, but worked their way back to the sub-section championship game again.
“We played well — very well — but Ellsworth just kept battling back, they would not give up. We expected it to be a great game from start to finish and it was.”
The Panthers, who were playing in their seventh consecutive sub-section title game — and 10th time in the past 11 tournaments, finished another fine season with a 20-9 overall record.
After starting the campaign with an 8-1 record, including impressive back-to-back victories over MACCRAY (75-59) and Perham (71-57) in Worthington’s Holiday Tournament, the Panthers lost five games in row when top players Casey Schilling (broken wrist) and Nick Nolte (severe ankle sprain) were sidelined with injuries.
EHS was 10-7 following a 69-58 loss to Adrian on Jan. 28.
But since then, the Panthers won 10 of 11 prior to Saturday’s defeat.
“We had a great season,” summed up first-year EHS head coach JD Roberts. “I just can’t say enough good things about our five seniors and the kind of leadership they each provided — these kids gave their best effort all year long.”
Ellsworth’s only loss its initial nine games was a 74-64 setback to SWC at Edgerton Dec. 9 and the Panthers only two losses during the final 12 games were inflicted by the Eagles, who edged them at Ellsworth (77-75) Feb. 17 and then ended their season with Saturday’s verdict.
“Ellsworth has a great team and we expected another strong challenge from them,” said third-year SWC assistant coach John Top, whose younger brother Andrew had a stellar performance for the Eagles in the championship game.
Andrew Top sinks 11-of-14 free throws, scores game-high 26 points in versatile performance to lead SWC victory
It was Andrew Top, a versatile 6-4 senior forward, who came through with an outstanding all-around performance Saturday.
Top scored a game-high 26 points, including sinking 11 of 14 free throws (eight of 10 in the second half) to lead the Eagles.
He connected on a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and tallied 11 timely points prior to intermission. Top added 15 points in the second half, including his third trey of the game.
“Andrew is a smart, relentless player, who has been in Zach Huisken’s shadow for most of his career,” declared Pap about Top. “He likes to bang inside and can play well outside, too. Andrew certainly stepped up with a terrific game (tonight) and has been a reliable all-around player for us all season.”
Top also had three rebounds, three assists and a trio of steals for the Eagles, while Huisken — who scored 15 points in the first half — contributed another solid all-around game with six assists to go along with an impressive double-double of 22 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
The Eagles also received 10 points (eight in the first half) from Keeran Sampson and nine points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals from 6-3 junior Eric Talsma — who contributed off the bench.
Talsma was one of five Eagles (Huisken, Sampson, Klint Knutson and Dominic Nibblelink were the others) who blocked a shot in the game.
Talsma’s block came late in the game — along with a steal and a couple of defensive rebounds — when SWC was closing out the victory.
“Eric really played well,” praised Pap. “He had the assignment of guarding Schilling several times in the second half and just worked as hard as he could, doing a very good job.”
SWC also received eight timely points — including a key second-half 3-pointer — from Knutson, who had four rebounds, three steals and two assists, as well.
Nibbelink, who sank four-of-six free throws in the second half, had five assists for the Eagles, who had only 12 turnovers — just five in the second half — the entire game.
Schilling, Huisman, Nolte each net double figures for Panthers
On the other side, the Panthers received double-figure scoring from the trio of Schilling, Dalton Huisman and Nolte, who combined for 53 of Ellsworth’s points.
Schilling (15 rebounds, four assists, four blocks, three steals) capped his brilliant high school hoops’ career with a 24-point game, scoring 13 in the first half and 11 in the second.
Huisman (three assists) scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half, including two of his three 3-pointers.
Nolte (four assists, two steals) scored the game’s first basket and netted 10 of his 14 points prior to intermission.
Travis Kvaale pulled down five rebounds and sank a pair of second-half free throws for the Panthers, while Mitch Leuthold sank a 3-pointer in each half and Logan Ahlers drilled a trey from the left corner — capping a well-executed Ellsworth second-half possession.
Drew Cheskie scored a bucket inside for the Panthers in the first half, which brought Ellsworth to within five points, 38-33, with 1:09 on the clock.
Eagles build leads of 12-7, 19-10, 30-22 in first 12:00, EHS trims lead to 25-22 at 6:39
The Eagles, who shot 69 percent for the game at the line (29 of 42), did not have a foul called on them in the game’s first nine minutes.
During that span, SWC worked to leads of 6-2, 12-7, 19-10 and 25-17.
Huisken, Top and Sampson each scored eight of the Eagles’ first 24 points, while Damon Vander Maten added a free throw at the 7:13 mark after Ellsworth’s sixth foul.
Trailing by eight, Schilling drew the Eagles’ first foul — 19 seconds later — converting a three-point play after an incredible tip-in with 6:54 to play, which sliced the lead to 25-20.
Fifteen seconds later, Nolte scored on a stellar drive and Ellsworth trailed by just three points, 25-22.
That was, however, as close as the Panthers would come.
A strong post up by Huisken, a smooth-moving 6-9 senior center, increased the lead back to five and then after a well-executed in-and-out, in-and-out passing sequence by the Eagles, Top (assist Huisken) drained a left-wing 3-pointer and SWC was leading by eight, 30-22, with 5:55 left in the first half.
Nolte quickly responded with a 3-pointer of his own and the Panthers trimmed the gap to five four more times before intermission, trailing by margins of 30-25, 32-27, 34-29, 36-31 and 38-33.
SWC holds off Panther rallies, stretches lead to 59-44 with 12-1 run
A steal and layup by Sampson gave the Eagles an eight-point lead, 43-35, a minute into the second half.
A baseline drive by Nolte and two free throws by Kvaale brought EHS to within four, 43-39, but Huisken (assist Top) put down a dunk at the 14:32 mark, pushing SWC’s lead back to six.
Schilling’s lead pass to Huisman for a layup made the score 45-41 and — after a pair of free throws by Talsma — a putback by Schilling put the margin at four again, 47-43, with 13 minutes to play.
But Knutson’s 3-pointer from the left corner stretched the spread to seven and began a 12-1 run for the Eagles.
A basket by Huisken (assist Talsma), a drive by Talsma, two free throws by Top (after a high-low feed from Huisken) and a 3-pointer by Top capped the three-minute surge, giving SWC a 59-44 advantage with exactly 10 minutes left.
A free throw by Schilling had been Ellsworth’s only point during that SWC run.
Ahlers scrapped for a rebound and fed Schilling for a hoop and then drained his corner 3-pointer — off of nice ball reversal — to slice the lead to 11, 60-49.
Huisman’s contested 3-pointer at the 6:05 mark made the score 62-54 and EHS continued to rally, closing the spread to 64-59 with a corner 3-pointer by Leuthhold with 3:55 on the clock.
Following a free throw by Talsma, Schilling scored in the lane and the Panthers were back to within four, 65-61, with 2:58 to play.
The Eagles, however, effectivley closed out the victory on a 16-5 finishing run, as Nibbelink made a trio of free throws and Huisken sank a pair, stretching the lead to 70-61
Another 3-pointer by Huisman sliced the gap to six and — after two free throws by Top and one by Nibbelink — Nolte drained a pair of foul shots to make the score 73-66 with 1:15 on the clock.
The Eagles, who made 23 of 32 free throws in the second half, clinched the title at the line in the remaining 75 seconds by making eight in a row (two by Top, two by Talsma, two more by Top and two by Knutson).
“We got big defensive stops and rebounds at the end — and made enough free throws,” concluded Pap. “This was a great win for our team.”
Ellsworth 33 33 — 66
SW Christian 40 41 — 81
Ellsworth (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Nolte 2-3-2-14, Huisman 3-3-2-15, Ahlers 1-0-0-3, Schilling 0-10-4-24, Leuthold 2-0-0-6, Kvaale 0-0-2, Cheskie 0-1-0-2. Totals 8-16-10-66.
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Knutson 1-1-3-8, Top 3-3-11-26, Nibbelink 0-0-5, K. Sampson 2-2-0-10, Vander Maten 0-0-1, Talsma 0-2-5-9, Huisken 0-9-4-22. Totals 6-17-29-81.