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PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Panthers rally past gallant RRC performance

WORTHINGTON -- Shooting a sizzling 64 percent (16 of 25) from the field in the first half Saturday afternoon, the eighth-seeded Red Rock Central Falcons outplayed the top-seeded Ellsworth Panthers for 22 minutes in the opening game of the "Super ...

RRC's Rogotzke
Daniel Kerwin/Daily Globe Red Rock Central's Henry Rogotzke (45) drives to the hoop as Ellsworth's Logan Ahlers (15) looks to defend during Saturday's game in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Shooting a sizzling 64 percent (16 of 25) from the field in the first half Saturday afternoon, the eighth-seeded Red Rock Central Falcons outplayed the top-seeded Ellsworth Panthers for 22 minutes in the opening game of the "Super Saturday" Section 3A South quarterfinals in front of a large crowd at the tournament-crazed Worthington High School gymnasium.

The result of RRC's stunning performance was a 36-27 halftime lead for the Falcons, who had entered the game by winning six of its last eight games, including a 68-51 triumph over Edgerton in Thursday's evening opening round or "pigtail" play-in game.

"We were coming on at season's end," declared RRC head coach Brian Walker in an understatement. "Our guys really played some fine all-around basketball in our last eight games or so."

RRC, which twice led by 11 or more points (27-16 and 36-24) late in the first half, continued to play well after intermission, holding a 44-34 advantage with 14:05 left in the game after a dazzling three-point play by sophomore post Henry Rogotzke (game-high 25 points, six rebounds).

But, Ellsworth -- which has played in the sub-section finals eight of the past nine seasons and has won the title seven times, including the last five in a row -- battled back and took a 57-54 lead with 5:26 on the clock when junior guard Dalton Huisman sank a long-range 3-pointer from the left wing.

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Once ahead, the Panthers held off several counter-rally attempts by the Falcons and prevailed with a hard-fought, 71-62, victory, advancing Ellsworth (23-4) to Thursday's semifinals.

"I would rather have an 'ugly win than a pretty loss,'" summed up EHS assistant coach Steve Kellen. "We didn't play our best basketball -- but RRC had a lot to do with that as they played very well. The bottom line is that our guys came out on top and we are playing again Thursday."

The Panthers will tangle with fourth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the first of two semifinals at Worthington, beginning at 6 p.m.

R-T-R (19-7) advanced by impressively pulling away from a 32-27 halftime lead on Fulda in Saturday's second game, claiming a 79-47 victory.

The Knights lost to Ellsworth in the season-opener for both squads -- at Ellsworth Dec. 2 -- a high-scoring contest, 80-68.

Falcons soar, as Rogotzke scores 16 first-half points

The six-foot-four Rogotzke scored the game's first two points 38 seconds in on a slick move down low and then passed to junior forward Daniel Maras (10 points, six rebounds, four assists) for a basket -- after Maras had hustled to scoop up a loose ball -- giving RRC a quick 4-0 lead with 16:36 on the clock.

Ellsworth's Nick Nolte (18 points, six assists, five steals) drained a 3-pointer to get the Panthers started, but RRC senior Tyler Erickson (10 points, three steals) found Maras for a 6-3 Falcon lead.

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After Logan Ahlers (eight points, four rebounds) scored inside for Ellsworth, Maras raised his early-game point total to six and gave RRC an 8-5 lead by powering up an offensive-rebound putback with 14:57 showing.

A minute later, Ellsworth claimed its only lead of the game -- until Huisman's second half trey -- as Nolte converted a steal into a layup and Ahlers passed to Casey Schilling (19 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks, three assists) on a back cut, putting the Panthers ahead 9-8.

But starting with an Erickson jumper, the Falcons soared to a 27-16 lead over the game's next eight minutes, stringing together an eye-opening 19-7 run.

"We executed our game plan almost to perfection," praised Walker of RRC's first-half performance. "We got our big guy (Rogotzke) involved in the offense and all of the guys were hustling and moving on both ends of the floor."

After Rogotzke (16 first-half points) drilled a deep 2-pointer, Erickson cleared himself for another mid-range jump shot and RRC led by five, 14-9, at the 12:05 mark.

Nolte passed to Huisman for an Ellsworth basket, but RRC's Dylan Bunting fed Erickson for a turnaround jumper down low, keeping the spread at five.

Nolte (14 first-half points) scored on a tough drive, trimming the lead to three with 9:48 to play.

"Nick plays so hard," praised Ellsworth head coach Tyler Morris about his hustling junior guard. "He plays with so much passion and he really carried us in the first half with lots of extra effort."

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Nolte had an assist and scored seven of Ellsworth's first 13 points.

After Rogotzke made a free throw and Huisman passed to Schilling (inbounds play), the score was 19-15.

Following an Erickson steal, Bunting sank RRC's only 3-pointer of the game, giving the Falcons a 22-15 lead with 8:31 left in the first half.

Twenty-four seconds later, RRC was up eight after a three-point play by Rogotzke as the Falcons effectively broke Ellsworth's press.

Senior Andrew Engen (three steals) -- who drew the assignment of guarding Schilling in RRC's "triangle and two" defense -- came up with a steal and Rogotzke's putback bucket, capped the 19-7 surge, giving RRC a 27-16 advantage with 7:31 on the clock.

"Andrew did a great job on Schilling and Jeff DeCock had the task of guarding Huisman," explained Walker of the RRC combination defense which had two players (Engen and DeCock) playing man-to-man, while the other three played a triangle zone. "Everybody worked hard and did their job in that defense, which helped us build our lead."

A great play by Nolte (steal and layup) trimmed the margin to nine, and after a free throw by DeCock, Nolte found Kvaale for a score, slicing the lead to 28-20 at the 4:22 mark.

Rogotzke scored again on a nice move down low before Schilling's putback kept the spread at eight.

Another steal and layup by Nolte brought Ellsworth to within six points, 30-24, with 3:03 on the clock.

A steal by Bunting and his later assist to Maras (pick-and-roll) put the Falcons back up by eight.

RRC earned its biggest lead of the game after a drive and bank shot by Rogotzke, followed by a layup from Erickson (hustling for a loose ball) in a span of 13 seconds.

With 1:10 to go in the first half, the Falcons were leading by a dozen, 36-24.

"We gave up too many points and we didn't get enough rebounds," summed up Morris about Ellsworth's first-half play. "We needed to get more defensive stops and score more points ourselves."

A 3-pointer by Nolte (assist Huisman) with 57 seconds left completed the scoring prior to intermission.

Panthers start second-half strong, gradually reclaim and hold lead

Starting with back-to-back steals and layups by Huisman and Schilling got the Panthers off to a good start in the second half.

But, DeCock (14 points, four assists) made a spectacular play -- chasing down the ball after a wild scramble and then dribbling past and through the EHS defense, converting a three-point play which put RRC up eight, 39-31, with 16:38 to play in the game.

Kvaale (11 points) knocked down the first of a trio of his second-half 3-pointers to slice the gap to five, but RRC countered with five straight points of its own, building another double-digit lead -- 44-34 with 14:05 on the clock.

A pair of free throws by Rogotzke (Nolte's third foul) made the score 41-34.

Rogotzke (assist Erickson) took a pass and -- following a nifty spin move -- banked in a shot off the glass and was fouled.

His free throw put the Falcons up by 10.

Kvaale's 3-pointer from the top of the key and Schilling's hoop inside, trimmed the margin to five (44-39) -- but at the 13:16 mark, Nolte picked up his fourth foul.

A minute later, Schilling found Ahlers on a sweet play, and it was a three-point game.

"RRC's 'triangle and two' was bottling up Casey and Dalton, so we needed to get the other guys flowing," explained Morris. "Nick, Travis and Logan all did that and we scored a lot better in the second half."

Ahlers scored again (assist Daniel Kramer) at the 11:08 mark and the Panthers were within one -- for the first of six times, before finally knotting the score five minutes later.

A great move down the lane by DeCock (13 second-half points) put RRC back up by three, 46-43.

A Schilling to Huisman fastbreak trimmed the gap to one.

A high-low from Maras to Rogotzke made the score 48-45.

Free throws by Schilling and Kramer sliced the lead to one by the 8:51 mark.

Maras countered with a post-up bucket 21 seconds later and the lead was three again.

Ahlers sank a pair of free throws and -- again -- the Panthers were within one, trailing 50-49.

DeCock, a sophomore with lots of spring, sank a pair of free throws and once again RRC was up by three.

Huisman scored on an alley-oop pass from Nolte and for the fifth time, Ellsworth was down by just one.

Rogotzke scored for the final time -- making a reverse layup -- and the Falcons held a 54-51 edge with 7:30 to play.

But back came the Panthers.

A rebound basket by Schilling brought EHS to within one point for the sixth time, and then with 6:07 on the clock -- Huisman sank a free throw to tie the score at 54-all.

Thirty-one seconds later, Huisman's left wing trey put the Panthers ahead, 57-54.

"That was a huge shot," declared Morris. "And so was the one by Travis a bit later."

After forcing a Falcon turnover, Ellsworth increased the lead to five when Nolte scored with 4:18 left.

Erickson netted a pair from the line, bringing RRC to within three points and, 30 seconds later, DeCock made one free throw as the Falcons trailed by just two, 59-57, with 3:14 to play.

Neither team scored for the next 94 seconds, but then with 1:40 on the clock, Kvaale knocked another top of the key 3-pointer and the Panthers were once again up by five, 62-57.

A pair of free throws each by Schilling and Huisman (14 points, 12 in the second half) stretched the margin to nine, 66-57, with 51 seconds left.

Schilling -- who guarded Rogotzke late in the game -- made three more free throws and Nolte sank a pair, offsetting five final-minute points by DeCock, completing the game's scoring.

"Give RRC all kinds of credit," concluded Morris. "Brian's team played a tremendous game and we had to play from behind most of the game. But we got things done and that's what counts. We will be ready to play Thursday"

RRC finishes with a 10-15 record, going 6-3 over its last nine games.

The Falcons lost by 35 points (79-44) to Ellsworth at Lamberton in RRC's third game of the season in early December, giving up 21 offensive rebounds in that contest.

"We only gave up eight offensive rebounds this time and battled them evenly on the boards, with each team getting 23 for the game," concluded Walker. "We are really proud of how well our kids finished their year -- this was a great game."

RRC 36 26 -- 62

Ellsworth 27 44 -- 71

RRC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Erickson 0-4-2-10, DeCock 0-4-6-14, Maras 0-5-0-10, Bunting 1-0-0-3, Rogotzke 0-10-5-25. Totals 1-23-13-62.

Ellsworth (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Nolte 2-5-2-18, Huisman 1-4-3-14, Ahlers 0-3-2-8, Schilling 0-6-7-19, Kramer 0-0-1-1, Kvaale 3-1-0-11. Totals 6-19-15-71.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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