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By Marlys Kruger
The number three seed Elk Mound boys started the WIAA Division 3 regional tournament off on a high note with a 61-45 home victory against the Osseo-Fairchild Thunder Tuesday, February 15, then lost to St. Croix Falls on the road 63-48 to end their season three days later.
The Mounders finished the 2020-21 season 15-9 and place second in the Dunn-St. Croix with an 11-3 mark.
The number six seed Thunder struggled this year in the highly competitive Western Cloverbelt Conference, finishing with a 3-11 record and were 5-12 overall.
But it was raining three pointers as usual for the Mounders as they knocked down ten of them in the game. Elk Mound held a 14-8 lead early and were up by just two points with a minute to go in the first half at 23-21 but came up with three points to hold a 26-21 advantage at the intermission.
Ben Heath and Kaden Russo both had nine points in the half for Elk Mound, and Heath, Ryan Bohl, Michael Jenson, and Russo all canned a triple.
Elk Mound outscored Osseo-Fairchild by 11 points in the second half, 35 to 24, to claim the 61-45 victory and a spot in Friday’s regional semifinal contest against St. Croix Falls.
Russo finished with 19 points which included two more treys while Ryan Bartig connected twice from long range and finished with ten points. Heath hit a pair of free throws to end with 11 points and Jenson and Brex Todd connected for the final two triples on the night. The Mounders were three-of-seven from the foul line while the Thunder were nine-of-14 with six triples.
“It was nice to get a win tonight,” Elk Mound coach Michael Kessler said. “I thought we came out of the gate lacking a little energy on both ends of the floor. Luckily our boys came out with a ton of energy on the defensive end the second half, and we were able to get some easy buckets in transition off of the turnovers we created. We also executed better offensively the second half, setting good screens which allowed us to knock down some shots,” he added.
St. Croix Falls
Elk Mound traveled to St. Croix Falls for a second round game against a team from the Heart O’ North Conference. The second seed Saints were 14-7 overall and 11-6 in conference play, led by Jared Lessman with an 18-point scoring average per game.
The Mounders found the range from behind the arc five times in the first half, twice by both Bohl and Ryan Bartig, and once by Russo. Heath went five-for-seven at the foul line, but they trailed the Saints 34-24 at the half.
“We went up against an extremely physical SCF team tonight,” coach Michael Kessler said. “We struggled to consistently knock down shots from the perimeter against their 2-3 zone. We really couldn’t find a rhythm on the offensive end.”
Bohl, Bartig, and Russo all connected again for a triple each in the second half, Heath scored three times from close range, and Nate Lew hit a pair of free tosses with a bucket but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit. Lessman scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the half to help SCF maintain their double-digit lead en route to the 63-48 victory.
Heath finished with 11 points to lead the Mounders while Bohl and Bartig both added nine, all from three point land. Russo tacked on eight points, Lew four, Ethan Johnson three, and Jerome Delikowski two. Elk Mound went eight-for-11 at the charity stripe while the Saints were eight-for-16.
“They ran a 2-2-1 press against us all night and it gave us some trouble on a handful of possessions,” Kessler said. “But, for the most part we got through the pressure quite well. The Lessman kid was a solid all-around player. He made shots from the perimeter and attacked the basket as well,” he added.
St. Croix Falls lost the following night in the regional final to former Dunn-St. Croix Conference team and number one seed, St. Croix Central, 79-39.