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By Marlys Kruger
Playing back-to-back games during the holiday break against a pair of teams from the Cloverbelt West Conference, the Elk Mound boys basketball team came up with a pair of wins. Using a stellar defense and balanced scoring, the Mounders defeated the Stanley-Boyd Orioles 49-36 December 29 in Stanley, then beat the number six rated team in Division 4, as ranked by Wissports.net, the Fall Creek Crickets, 61-54 at home 24 hours later.
The Mounders head into 2021 with a 4-5 overall record and are 1-1 in Dunn St. Croix Conference play. They returned to conference play Monday January 4, hosting Glenwood City then travel to Mondovi Friday, January 8.
Kaden Russo scored 11 of the Mounders 23 first-half points, helping them take a 23-14 advantage at the intermission. Their defense was huge as they held the Orioles to just two points in a nine-point stretch during the half.
And the defense continued to step up the second half, holding Stanley-Boyd’s scoring down again during another long stretch.
The Mounders were up by ten points, seemingly on their way to an easy victory, but the Orioles cut that lead to just three points, forcing them to bear down on defense. Ben Heath scored all 13 of his points in the game in the latter half to help ward off the Orioles.
“They cut our lead to three points but our kids got stops when we needed them and we weathered the storm,” Elk Mound coach Michael Kessler said. “I thought our kids did a nice job attacking the paint on the offensive end and really shared the ball well with each other,” he added.
Heath led the Mounders with 13 points and Russo contributed with 11, Ryan Bohl 10 and Michael Jenson nine. The team connected for four triples and were eight-of-12 from the free throw line. Carson Hause was high man for the Orioles, hitting four treys for 12 points and teamwise they did not visit the foul line often, going just two-for-four.
Although the Crickets were playing without their leading scorer, Jayden Fitch who averages 22 points a game, they still have several players who are capable of scoring in double figures. But the Mounder’s stiff zone defense kept them in check for the most part.
Heath started the scoring for the Mounders with a trey and Jenson followed his lead with his own. Heath then knotted the score with a close range shot at 8-8 before Nate Lew scored and added a free toss for an 11-9 lead.
The Crickets pulled ahead 19-15 but Russo drained a trey, Ryan Bartig connected for his own long ball and Russo drove the lane for a deuce and made the extra free throw for a 24-19 Mounder advantage. Lew scored on another trip through the lane to put his team ahead 26-22 at the intermission.
“I thought our kids did a nice job attacking the lane and for the most part making good decisions with the ball when we got in there,” coach Kessler said. “Our defense kept us in the game early as we struggled to knock down shots.”
Russo began the second half with a steal and a layup to up the lead and after Lew banged home a triple, it was 31-24.
But Fall Creek closed the gap a few minutes later to just a point on their own trey. Bohl, the Mounder’s leading scorer at 12 points a game, finally scored his first two points of the contest with a put back for a 33-28 lead. After a pair of turnovers by the Mounders resulted in two points for the Crickets, it was just 35-33 in the Mounder’s favor. Antonio Meyer came up with a big bucket to up their advantage, but another Cricket trey put the lead back to a single point again.
At this point, Bohl took matters into his own hands as he rattled off 11 of his team’s 13 points in the next few minutes. Nailing a trio of triples and swiping the ball and scoring on a layup, added to Russo’s deuce put the Mounder’s ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to go.
But as mentioned before, the Crickets have plenty of scoring power and they narrowed the gap to 50-48 before Heath connected from long range on a corner shot. Fall Creek’s Soren Johnson may have an ESPN highlight reel shot as he scored from his knees after falling in the lane to close the gap yet again, this time to three points with just under three minutes left. Bohl, still on fire, added on five more points with two shots in the paint and a free toss, and after Heath broke the Crickets press for a layup, Bartig added a final free throw to seal the victory.
“This was a nice win for our kids tonight,” Kessler said. “I was really impressed with the physical play from our guys from start to finish against a very big and physical Fall Creek team. We certainly have a lot to improve on but I’m happy for our kids to get a quality win,” he concluded.
Bohl scored all 18 of his game high points in the second half, while Heath and Russo added 12 each for the game along with eight from Lew. The Mounders were called for just six fouls in the game, with just two in the second half. They made five of 11 free tosses and were back on track from long range with nine treys.The Crickets were four-of-nine at the foul line, with Bo Vollrath scoring 11 points to lead them in that department.