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Panthers stymie Eagles, 89-59

EDGERTON -- Outscoring Southwest Christian 21-6 over the last seven-plus minutes of the first half Friday night, the Ellsworth Panthers opened the boys' basketball season with a bang -- earning an impressive 89-59 victory over the Eagles in a highly-anticipated showdown featuring a pair of Red Rock Conference juggernauts.

Ellsworth (ranked second in initial Class A state rankings) was 13-for-26 from three-point range and had five players score in double figures to defeat the Eagles, who came into the contest as the fourth-ranked Class A team in the state.

Senior Cody Schilling (6-5 guard) scored a game-high 25 points to go with 10 assists and nine rebounds in leading Ellsworth, while sophomore Trevor Gruis (6-8 post) charted 17 points, 10 rebounds and five shot blocks.

Junior Adam Van Der Stoep (14 points, five assists), senior Jordan Hinrichs (12 points, six rebounds) and senior Brandon Gruis (11 points) also scored in double digits for the Panthers, while senior Weston DeBerg contributed seven points, seven assists and three steals.

"This is a great way to start the season," Ellsworth head coach Markus Okeson said following the game. "Southwest is an excellent basketball team, and we executed very well tonight, especially right before halftime."

With Ellsworth leading 24-19 and 8:35 remaining in the first half, SWC's Rob Van Hofwegen (10 points) hit his second three-pointer of the night to pull the Eagles within two points at 24-22.

However, Ellsworth answered with 10 consecutive points to build a 34-22 lead with 5:19 to play.

After Brandon Gruis knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing following good ball movement, Schilling made a trio of key plays to spark the 10-point surge -- stroking a 15-foot jumper along the right baseline, finding Hinrichs for a layup with a no-look bounce pass on the break and hitting a pull-up three-pointer from the top of the key.

Mike Vander Veen (six points, six rebounds) connected from three-point land to make it 34-25, but Ellsworth again went on a scoring spree with 11 straight points to open up an eye-popping 20-point gap (45-25) with just under a minute left.

Van Der Stoep drained back-to-back three-pointers from the top of the key to trigger the run and later made two free throws to sandwich a trey from Hinrichs.

The Eagles scored the last three points of the half on a layup from Ethan Spronk (six rebounds) and a free throw from Trevor Holm to trail 45-28 at the break.

"It seemed like they were making every shot there for about a five-minute stretch," SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. "They have so many different players who can score from the perimeter, so they are tough to defend."

SWC, which was playing without 6-6 post Tyler Mouw, cut the lead down to 13 points twice midway through the second half, as the Eagles made it 54-41 and 56-43 with 12:42 and 11:50 showing on the clock, respectively.

Senior Alex Huisken (16 points, 10 rebounds, four steals), who picked up his third foul with 7:44 left in the first half, provided the spark for the Eagles during the opening minutes of the second period.

Huisken, a 6-6 post, scored on a strong post move and an offensive-rebound chance for the first two Eagle baskets. He later scored two more buckets, and Tommy Van't Hof (eight points, five assists) canned a three-pointer to help draw the Eagles within 13 at 54-41.

After Trevor Gruis and Van Hofwegen exchanged baskets to make it 56-43, Ellsworth went on a 12-4 run to manufacture a 21-point bulge (68-47) with 7:52 to go.

Trevor Gruis scored six points in that span, while Hinrichs, who later fired in a three-pointer from the left corner, found Van Der Stoep for a trey in the right corner.

Ellsworth continued to extend its lead, and the largest margin was 89-57 with 27 seconds left following a three-pointer from the Panthers' Tom Nolte. Nicholas Pfeifle scored the last basket of the game for the Eagles.

SWC scored the game's first points, as Holm was the recepient of quick sideline passing and scored a layup just five seconds after the opening tip.

Huisken later scored on an athletic baseline drive before Ryan Pronk (seven points, five assists) swished a three-pointer from the left wing, and Van Hofwegen converted a layup after a steal in the back-court -- fueling the Eagles to an early 9-6 lead.

After Trevor Gruis made a pair of free throws for Ellsworth, the teams put on a minute-long shooting clinic.

Van't Hof, Van Der Stoep, Van Hofwegen and Schilling made three-pointers on four consecutive possessions -- two for each team -- to increase the numbers on the scoreboard from 9-8 (SWC leading) with 13:42 remaining to 15-14 with 12:43 left.

Ellsworth then outscored the Eagles 10-7 over the next four minutes to take a 24-22 lead with 8:35 to play -- setting up the 21-6 Panthers' surge to end the half.

Ellsworth (1-0, 1-0) hosts Southwest Star Concept Thursday, while SWC (0-1, 0-1) hosts Pipestone Area Tuesday.

Ellsworth 45 44 -- 89

SWC 28 31 -- 59

ELLSWORTH (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Nolte 1-0-0-3, DeBerg 0-3-1-7, Schilling 3-7-2-25, Hinrichs 2-2-2-12, Van Der Stoep 4-0-2-14, B. Gruis 3-1-0-11, T. Gruis 0-5-7-17. Totals: 13-18-14-89.

SWC (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Pronk 1-2-0-7, Van't Hof 2-0-2-8, Van Schepen 0-0-1-1, Holm 0-2-1-5, Spronk 0-2-0-4, Vander Veen 1-1-1-6, Pfeifle 0-1-0-2, Huisken 0-7-2-16, Van Hofwegen 2-2-0-10. Totals: 6-17-7-59.