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Panthers return to Section 3A title game

MARSHALL -- Displaying its whole basketball package -- passing, 3-point shooting, strong inside moves, helping team defense and rebounding -- the Ellsworth Panthers repeated as boys' basketball champions of Section 3A South Saturday, defeating Red Rock Conference rival Southwest Christian, 81-65.

It was the school's fourth South title in six years.

The top-seeded Panthers roared to an impressive 22-6 lead in the game's first six minutes, fought off a pair of strong rallies by the Eagles, and then tallied 14 unanswered points early in the second half, earning a 53-34 lead with 14:42 to play in the game.

"We knew it was important to get a good start," said second-year Ellsworth head coach Markus Okeson. "We also knew that we had to be ready to respond to their runs because we knew that Southwest Christian would never give up."

Balanced scoring keyed the Panthers (28-1) to their 26th consecutive victory, as Cody Schilling and Aaron Van Der Stoep each finished with 23 points, and Travis Chapa scored 15 points.

"That was probably a varsity career high for me," said Chapa, who was the recipient of many of Schilling's 15 assists. "Coach always tells us to be ready to catch and score when Cody penetrates and dishes off. I had my hands ready, and the passes were right there."

After SWC's Alex Huisken (15 points, 10 rebounds) scored the game's first basket on a drive down the lane 20 seconds into the contest, the Panthers went on a 12-0 run. Schilling, Van Der Stoep and Josh Nolte each put down two-point field goals before one of Schilling's passes to Chapa resulted in a three-point play. A bit later, Van Der Stoep drilled the first of his three first-half 3-pointers and the Ellsworth crowd was going wild.

"We passed the ball well and got good looks," said Okeson. "All game long, our passing and teamwork were clicking."

An example of that came five minutes into the half when Schilling found Weston DeBerg for a basket, giving Ellsworth a 16-4 lead with 13:06 to play -- and all five Panther starters had scored.

Eighty seconds later, the lead grew to 21-6 when DeBerg completed a fast break -- off another assist from Schilling.

Starting with a pair of strong drives by Ryan Pronk (15 points, six assists), sandwiched around a nice feed from Pronk to Huisken, the Eagles began to rally back, trimming the Ellsworth lead to 25-12 with nine minutes to play in the first half.

"We became more aggressive," said SWC head coach Jamie Pap. "We seemed a little scared and rushed things a bit early on. Once, we settled down, we played much better. But Ellsworth passes so well and that makes them hard to defend."

The Eagles (18-8) outscored the Panthers 20-14 over those next nine minutes, cutting the Ellsworth lead to 39-32 by halftime. A pair of 3-pointers by Karl Vander Lugt and one each by Pronk and Tommy Van't Hof accounted for 12 of those SWC points.

Huisken, who had scored eight points in the first half, opened the second half scoring with another good inside move, and the Eagles were within five points (39-34).

But Ellsworth's defense took command,holding SWC without a field goal for nearly nine minutes.

"We score lots of points, but we can play defense, too," said Okeson. "Our defense was good during that second half run."

Schilling started the burst with a long field goal, before Van Der Stoep hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game. An impressive series of passes from Nolte to DeBerg to Chapa gave Ellsworth a 46-34 lead with 16:31 to play and 48 seconds later, Nolte's 3-pointer made it 49-34.

The Eagles made a trio of free throws over the next several minutes, but by the time Pronk scored on a dazzling drive -- SWC's first field goal since Huisken had scored to open the half -- with 8:50 showing on the clock, Ellsworth had opened up a 61-37 advantage

Huisken later scored on a lob pass from Eric Schaap, bringing the Eagles within 63-43 with 7:52 to play.

The Eagles continued to battle, trimming the Panther lead to 69-56 with a nice 8-2 run, but that was the closest SWC would come, as Ellsworth hit 11-of-12 free throws in the second half.

"We never gave up," summed up Pap. "We showed a lot of heart and continued to compete until the end."

Schilling had 15 rebounds to go along with his 23 points and 15 assists, giving him a triple-double. DeBerg had four rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Panthers, while Van Der Stoep pulled down eight rebounds and Jon Klaassen had a pair of steals.

Vander Lugt and Trent Ryswyk each finished with 12 points for the Eagles, while Tyler Mouw claimed eight rebounds. Schaap had four assists and a trio of steals.

The Panthers will tangle with Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the Section 3A title game at Marshall Thursday. The Knights edged top-seeded Lakeview Saturday, 62-61.

SW Christian 32 33 -- 65

Ellsworth 39 42 -- 81

SW Christian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Pronk 3-3-0-15, Van't Hof 1-0-0-3, Ryswyk 2-2-2-12, Huisken 0-7-1-15, Vander Lugt 2-2-2-12, Mouw 0-1-2-4, Schaap 0-2-0-4. Totals: 8-17-7-65.

Ellsworth (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Nolte 2-1-0-8, DeBerg 0-3-1-7, Schilling 0-8-7-23, Van Der Stoep 4-4-3-23, Klaassen 0-2-1-5, Chapa 0-6-3-15. Totals: 6-24-15-81.