BOYS' BASKETBALL: Ellsworth downs Southwest Christian

WORTHINGTON -- Senior Adam Van Der Stoep once again had the hot hand Thursday night, as he drilled seven 3-pointers -- including two critical ones in the final two minutes -- to spark the top-seeded Ellsworth Panthers to an exciting 71-62 victory...

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Southwest Christian's Rob Van Hofwegen (right) drives around Ellsworth's Tom Nolte during Thursday night's Section 3A South playoff game in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Senior Adam Van Der Stoep once again had the hot hand Thursday night, as he drilled seven 3-pointers -- including two critical ones in the final two minutes -- to spark the top-seeded Ellsworth Panthers to an exciting 71-62 victory over the fifth-seeded Southwest Christian Eagles in front of a huge crowd at Worthington High School in the semifinals of the Section 3A South boys' basketball tournament.

Ellsworth (25-3), which trailed 26-23 at halftime, outscored the Eagles 48-36 in the second half to advance to the South championship game for the fourth straight season. The Panthers will take on third-seeded Hills-Beaver Creek Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m.) in Redwood Falls.

"We kept our composure and played good team defense for the entire 36 minutes tonight," Ellsworth head coach Tyler Morris said after the game. "We struggled a little bit offensively in the first half, but our defense kept us in the game -- allowing us to get going offensively in the second half."

SWC, which finishes its season with a record of 14-10, controlled most of the action in the first half -- starting with a 5-0 run in the initial three minutes.

After Ellsworth scored nine straight points to take a 9-5 lead at the 9:41 mark, SWC went on a 15-2 surge and opened up a 20-11 lead with 4:02 remaining.


Senior Nicholas Pfeifle (12 points) swished a 3-pointer from the right wing to start that run, while freshman Zach Huisken (18 points) and senior Rob Van Hofwegen (10 points) each contributed with an offensive-rebound basket before junior Spencer Mesman popped in an 18-footer along the left baseline to help the Eagles in that stretch.

Van Hofwegen scored on a sweet fast-break move, and Huisken knocked down an 18-footer on the left wing to help SWC in the final two minutes.

Van Der Stoep, who nailed nine 3-pointers in the Panthers' 91-62 victory over Fulda on Saturday, buried a couple of 3-pointers before senior Tom Nolte (16 points, 10 rebounds, three steals) collected a steal and went coast-to-coast for a basket -- helping Ellsworth close the gap to three (26-23) by halftime.

Junior Derek Tinklenberg (12 points) swished a 3-pointer 22 seconds into the second half, and the Eagles maintained the lead throughout the initial eight minutes of the final period.

However, junior Trevor Gruis (16 points, 15 rebounds, four shot blocks, three assists) gave Ellsworth a 40-39 lead with a free throw with 10:11 left. The Panthers later led 45-41 following an inside hoop from Nolte and a deep 3-pointer from Van Der Stoep at the 7:42 mark.

SWC, though, regained the lead (49-47) behind the play of Huisken, who scored 10 straight points for the Eagles at one time. Huisken's basket on the right block off an over-the-top feed from junior Jared Mouw put the Eagles back on top with 5:18 to go.

Huisken scored again on a nifty step-through move to put SWC up 51-49 at the 4:42 mark, but Nolte, who scored 14 second-half points, converted a steal into a sweet reverse layup before Gruis, who also scored 14 second-half points, hit two straight shots to help put Ellsworth ahead by two (55-53) with 3:22 remaining.

It was still a two-point game (57-55) with less than two minutes to go, but Van Der Stoep (27 points, 16 in the second half) took a pass from Nolte and rifled in a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:51 left to make it 60-55.


Pfeifle responded with a transition basket 20 seconds later to make it 60-57. But Van Der Stoep delivered again at the 1:11 mark -- swishing a 3-pointer from the top of the key to increase the Panthers' lead to 63-57.

"Adam is a kid who has really elevated his level of play in our last two games," Morris said. "His outside shooting has been really big for us, but he has also been finding guys for open looks and also scoring on a few drives, as well."

Ellsworth, which had a 41-35 advantage on the boards, went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line after that to seal the victory.

"I thought we had it there for a while," SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. "We played a great game, and our effort was outstanding. It came down to the wire, and we lost Van Der Stoep on a couple of screens, and that was the difference."

Junior Matt Buntjer and freshman Casey Schilling each had eight rebounds and six points for Ellsworth.

SWC 26 36 -- 62

Ellsworth 23 48 -- 71

SWC (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): D. Tinklenberg 2-3-0-12, Van Schepen 0-1-0-2, Van Hofwegen 0-3-4-10, Mesman 0-2-0-4, Pfeifle 2-3-0-12, Z. Huisken 0-8-2-18, Mouw 0-2-0-4. Totals: 4-22-6-62.


EHS (3PT-2PT-FT-TP): Nolte 0-5-6-16, Schilling 0-2-2-6, Van Der Stoep 7-1-4-27, Gruis 0-6-4-16, Buntjer 0-1-4-6. Totals: 7-15-20-71.

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