BOYS' BASKETBALL: Panthers fall in title game

MINNEAPOLIS -- The players on Ellsworth's boys' basketball team reluctantly accepted the trophy handed to them. Trevor Gruis held it above his head, and then quickly lowered it. Adam Van Der Stoep and Tom Nolte stared at the floor. Dalton Huisman...

Matt Huss/Daily Globe Ellsworth's Matt Buntjer reacts after a teammate misses a free throw during overtime Saturday in the Class A championship game at Target Center in Minneapolis. The Panthers lost 62-54 against Granada-Huntley-East Chain.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The players on Ellsworth's boys' basketball team reluctantly accepted the trophy handed to them. Trevor Gruis held it above his head, and then quickly lowered it. Adam Van Der Stoep and Tom Nolte stared at the floor. Dalton Huisman pulled his jersey over his head.

It wasn't the hardware the Panthers were accustomed to receiving, and it definitely wasn't what they wanted.

After winning the past two Class A championships, Ellsworth's title run came to a sudden and disheartening end Saturday afternoon at Target Center in Minneapolis. Granada-Huntley-East Chain stormed back from an 11-point deficit with 15:23 remaining to earn a 62-54 overtime victory against the Panthers, who were making their fourth consecutive appearance in the championship game.

"I can't describe the feeling -- it's amazing," Mustangs senior guard Taylor Nawrocki said. "I don't think it will hit me until I go home and get in bed."

It was the first state title in any sport for Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School. The Mustangs reached the state tournament last year for the first time but suffered a 59-41 loss to Ellsworth in the quarterfinals.


G-H-EC gained a measure of revenge Saturday, but it needed a furious comeback and an overtime period to get it done.

A free throw by Gruis gave Ellsworth its largest lead of the game, 32-21, with 15:23 remaining in regulation. The Panthers went scoreless in a span of 3:06 midway through the second half but still held a 36-27 lead with 11:19 remaining.

Suddenly, however, G-H-EC got hot.

The Mustangs went 6-for-9 from the field in the ensuing 4:35, and Tim Garry capped a 17-7 run with a 3-pointer to give them a 44-43 advantage -- their first lead of the game -- with 6:18 remaining.

The lead changed hands six times in the next 3:44, with Nawrocki converting on a three-point play to give the Mustangs a 51-49 lead with 2:34 remaining.

Ellsworth evened the score on a short jumper by Gruis with 1:26 remaining, and the Mustangs held the ball for the final shot. Marcus Teachout attempted a 3-pointer from the corner, but the ball bounced off the iron with nine-tenths of a second remaining. The Panthers were unable to get a desperation shot off on their ensuing possession.

It was all G-H-EC in overtime.

The Mustangs went 3-for-3 from the field and 5-for-9 from the free-throw line in the four-minute extra session. They forced three consecutive turnovers and opened the period on a 7-0 run.


The Panthers went 1-for-7 from the field in overtime. Nolte scored on a driving floater with 59 seconds remaining to pull the Panthers to within 58-53. Gruis made 1 of 2 free throws with 46 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to four points, but the Panthers missed their final three shots -- all 3-point attempts by freshman guard Dalton Huisman -- to finish the game.

"They're taking it pretty hard," Ellsworth coach Tyler Morris said, referring to his players. "Like we've been telling them since the final horn went off: 'This is a heck of an accomplishment, still. Keep your heads up and be proud of what you've done.'"

Making it more painful was the fact that the Panthers were in control for the majority of the game.

Ellsworth, which went on a 7-2 run to start the game, held a 12-9 advantage with 12:31 remaining until halftime. Nolte then hit a driving floater to spark a 7-0 run, and the Panthers never led by fewer than seven points in the ensuing 12:38.

Nolte, Casey Schilling and Matt Buntjer combined for 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the first half for Ellsworth, which held the Mustangs to just 29.2 percent shooting (7-for-24) from the field en route to a 28-18 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Mustangs turned to their defense to turn the tables.

G-H-EC employed a 1-2-2 half-court defense, trapping Ellsworth's guards near midcourt and forcing Gruis to receive passes near the top of the key in order to beat the pressure.

"The difference was the half-court trap," Mustangs coach Robbin Celander said. "It got Gruis away from the basket, because they put him in the middle of the floor, and we knew they'd probably do that. And they just struggled with their passes a little bit."


The Mustangs forced 11 turnovers -- nine after going to the 1-2-2 defense five minutes after halftime -- and scored 12 points off Ellsworth's giveaways in the second half. Ellsworth scored two points off two G-H-EC turnovers in the second half.

On the offensive end, the Mustangs caught fire from beyond the arc. They went 5-of-7 from 3-point range to start the second half, with Teachout drilling a trey to pull them to within one point, 38-37, with 8:39 remaining.

"That's how it goes for us every night; we have great shooters on our team," Nawrocki said. "Our outside shots weren't falling right away, but we just patiently got back in there."

The momentum clearly was one the Mustangs' side, but the Panthers refused to cave, and the game went back and forth in the final minutes.

Nolte answered Teachout's trey with a layup on an assist from Gruis, and Garry responded with a tough jumper from the baseline.

Van Der Stoep drilled a 3-pointer on an assist from Gruis on Ellworth's ensuing possession, but Nawrocki cut the deficit to two points on an acrobatic layup on the other end.

Just more than a minute later, Garry drilled a trey from the top of the key to give the Mustangs their first lead of the game, but Ellsworth took it back 18 seconds later after Nolte drove into the lane and dished to Huisman for an easy layup.

Teachout hit a deep jumper to put G-H-EC back up by one point with 4:54 remaining, but Buntjer converted a layup on another nice feed from Nolte 20 seconds later.


Garry scored on a drive on the other end, but Gruis answered on a drive to give Ellsworth a 49-48 lead with 3:19 remaining.

The Mustangs missed a 3-pointer on their ensuing possession, but their trapping defense quickly forced another turnover. Nawrocki then scored on a drive, drew a foul and converted the ensuing free throw to give G-H-EC a 51-49 lead with 2:34 remaining.

Gruis missed a jumper on the other end, and Teachout missed the front end of a one-and-one. Gruis then scored on an assist from Van Der Stoep with 1:26 remaining to tie the game and essentially force overtime.

"I think the difference in the second half was we kind of went through a stretch where we couldn't put the ball in the basket, and they started hitting some shots and gaining some momentum," Morris said. "They went to a 1-2-2 three-quarter-court press, and we turned the ball over at times -- that really hurt us. But like all season, the guys kept their composure, and I'm really proud of that and I'm really proud of them.

"We were very optimistic when the game went into overtime, and our guys were fired up. But it came down to, again, we went through a little lull where we couldn't make a shot, and they had some good things going for them."

Garry, a 6-foot-5 senior center, scored a game-high 25 points -- 20 in the second half -- on 10-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Nawrocki added 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting, and Teachout scored 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting for the Mustangs (29-0), who shot a combined 50 percent (15 of 30) from the field in the second half and overtime.

Garry and Nawrocki were named to the all-tournament team.

"This group won't panic," Celander said. "We were down toward the end of the game, but we found a way to come back. They understand the game and they know how it's supposed to be played."


Nolte scored 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting and added 10 rebounds and three assists to lead Ellsworth, which shot 41.8 percent from the field (23 of 55) in the game.

Schilling added 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and Gruis scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting and added 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. Buntjer scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, and Van Der Stoep had six points on 2-of-9 shooting. Huisman finished with two points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Van Der Stoep, Gruis and Schilling were named to the all-tournament team.

The Panthers went 5-for-20 shooting from 3-point range and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line.

"A lot of people had written us off this year; a lot of people said we weren't even going to win our own conference, much less get through the sub-section and the section and make it here and get to the title game," Morris said. "I'm disappointed, and I know all the guys are disappointed, but, at the same time, we're all going to keep our heads up and we're going to be proud of what we accomplished this year."

G-H-EC 18 33 11 -- 62

Ellsworth 28 23 3 -- 54

G-H-EC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Tay. Nawrocki 2-5-2-18, Teachout 1-2-4-11, Garry 4-6-1-25, Harder 1-1-0-5, Tan. Nawrocki 0-0-3-3. Totals: 8-14-10-62.


EHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Schilling 3-1-0-11, Nolte 0-8-0-16, Van Der Stoep 2-0-0-6, Gruis 0-4-2-10, Buntjer 0-4-1-9, Huisman 0-1-0-2. Totals: 5-18-3-54.

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