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by Marlys Kruger
The Elk Mound boys may need to use a new nickname, “The Cardiac Kids”, after the way they won their basketball games last week.
Starting with back-to-back home games, the Mounders won an exciting one in overtime over the Durand Panthers 53-49 February 1, came from behind the next night and fought off the Elmwood-Plum City Wolves to earn a 43-42 win. Then after being tied at the half at Glenwood City, they pulled out a 54-44 win over the Hilltoppers three days later.
Elk Mound is 12-8 overall and 9-3 in conference play, one game behind front-runner Spring Valley. The Mounders finish the regular season this week with games against Boyceville and Mondovi before heading into the regional tournament. They were in Boyceville Monday, February 8 and host Mondovi this Thursday, February 11 in the conference and regular-season finale.
The Mounders, who earned the number 3 seed, will open the WIAA Division 3 regional tournament at home next Tuesday, February 16 when they welcome #6 Osseo-Fairchild. The winner of the contest will travel to St. Croix Falls on Friday, February 19 for a regional semifinal game against the #2 Saints. The regional final will be held the following evening, Saturday, February 20
The Panthers were a state-ranked team early in the season but had to deal with COVID-19 issues and missed or had to make up several games this year. But, they still have a ton of talented players and were finding their groove as of late.
Durand took an early 5-0 lead before Ben Heath knotted things up with his two free throws and a triple. The Panthers held leads of 13-10 and 20-16 and the game was eventually tied at 24-24. Ethan Anibas put Durand up 26-24 and with just seconds left in the half, Kaden Russo drained his third trey of the game for a 27-26 Mounder lead at the break.
“We came out in the second half and defended really well for the first eight minutes,” Mounders’ coach Michael Kessler said. “Our defensive energy and communication forced them into a lot of tough shots, and we did a really nice job during that stretch securing rebounds. During that stretch, we also had a lot of quality offensive possessions.”
After Russo’s sixth triple midway through the second half, the Mounders extended their lead to 39-28. But somehow in a period of nine minutes, Durand found their shooting skills and suddenly things were knotted up at 42-42 with a couple of minutes left.
“Durand ramped up the pressure in the latter part of the half, and we did not respond well,” Kessler said. “They were able to force us into a few bad shots and got us to turn the ball over a few times. They were able to string together some nice possessions and got back into the game,” he added.
Both teams had a final shot before the buzzer went off but neither shot found the basket and it was overtime.
Ryan Bartig quickly put the Mounders up with a shot from long range, but the Panthers hit a pair of deuces to take a 47-46 lead. Russo, the freshman sharpshooter, canned his seventh triple of the contest to give his team a 49-47 advantage with 28 seconds to go. After Nate Lew blocked a Panther shot, Ryan Bohl was fouled and canned two free tosses for a four-point cushion with eight ticks on the clock showing. Bohl was fouled again, and although he missed this freebie, the Mounders rebounded the ball to end the game.
Russo topped all scorers with 26 points and Heath added 11. The Mounders were 11-of-17 from the foul line. Gunnar Hurlburt was high man for Durand with 12 points and his team shot three-for-three from the charity stripe.
The Wolves had defeated the Mounders by two points back in December, giving Elk Mound one of their three conference losses. In this contest, E-PC had a seven-point lead at one time before the Mounders came back to take a four-point lead in the February 2 home contest.
It was a tight game in the first half as Bohl continued to have a hot hand from long range with a pair of treys. Russo and Bartig each drained one long ball and Heath added six points to help them take a 21-20 advantage at the intermission.
Bohl added eight points in the second half which included his third trey to go with five points apiece by Lew and Russo. Heath tacked on a free throw along with a Jenson deuce for the Mounders’ 21 points. They were up by four points late in the game and needed to hold off the Wolves to gain the one-point victory.
Bohl was high man for the Mounders with 16 points and Russo added eight. Elk Mound knocked down six shots from behind the arc and were five-of-12 from the foul line. E-PC’s Luke Webb was high scorer for the game with 20 points and his team shot seven-for-11 at the stripe.
“We found a way to win tonight,” coach Kessler said. “E-PC gave us a great game. I am really impressed with the grit our guys showed after being down by seven points. We were able to make plays offensively around the rim in the latter part of the second half. Our guys clamped down on defense for a stretch and finished possessions with rebounds. Proud of our guys for battling after playing four games in six days,” he added.
Bohl scored ten points in the first half including a pair of triples, while Bartig canned two treys of his own, to go with seven points from Russo including one long ball. But the Toppers Brandyn Hallquist scored 15 points and Gavin Janson added a couple of triples to counter the Mounders and it was 28-28 at the intermission
Elk Mound outscored Glenwood by ten points in the second half, with help from 14 more points by Russo including two more shots from behind the arc. All told, the Mounders dropped in seven treys for the game and were 10-for-14 from the foul line. Hallquist led the Toppers with 15 points and the team was a perfect three-for-three from the charity stripe, with nine treys.
“This was a nice road win for our team,” Kessler said. “Glenwood came out of the gate shooting very well but we were able to settle down in the second half and get some stops,” he added.