MACCRAY denied state trip
MARSHALL -- MACCRAY's dream of an undefeated season came to an end Thursday.
The Wolverines (28-1), the No. 1 team in Class A all season, fell to the experience and savvy of Ellsworth 76-71 in the Section 3A boys basketball championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Ellsworth will be making its fifth straight and sixth overall state appearance beginning on Thursday. They were state runners-up last year and state champions in 2007 and '08.
Befitting a championship game with two top-rated teams, no lead was too secure. MACCRAY found that out in the first half.
Playing their high-tempo, press-for-turnovers style, the Wolverines ran circles around Ellsworth (25-5) for the first 4:30, building a 12-4 lead. Shaun Condon scored 10 of those points on his way to a game-high 31.
It didn't take long for the lead to disappear. Cody Schilling hit a three-pointer and the Panthers went on a 7-0 run to get within two points.
Dylan Aeikens then scored five straight points -- he had 21 for the game -- and the lead was back up to seven.
"When we could some pressure on them, that was the kind of flow we wanted," said MACCRAY coach Gary Nelsen. "But it got to where they were getting set up when we were bringing the ball down. We didn't want to play that kind of a tempo."
The Panthers started controlling the Wolverines' rush and getting the ball into 6-foot-9 post Trevor Gruis, who most teams don't have much of an answer for.
"He's tough. We tried to front him as much as we could, but he's got such a big body," Nelsen said. "We tried to double team and we did that most of the second half."
Gruis had 12 points in the first half and 24 overall as Ellsworth took a 42-39 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Wolverines fell behind by as much as 10 points. They started picking it apart, including a steal and layup by Dylan Aeikens, then another steal and pass to Aeikens, which he converted to cut the lead to 57-56.
The Wolverines kept climbing up the hill: Seth Hinrichs hit a three with 5:12 left to tie the game at 62, Condon nailed a three with 1:33 left to keep MACCRAY within two, then Aeikens hit the biggest shot of the game for the Wolverines.
Darrin Caspers knocked the ball out of an Ellsworth players' hands, tried to pass it to a teammate but it was knocked around. MACCRAY eventually wound up with the ball and Aeikens put up a shot to tie. It was short, Caspers fought for the rebound and kicked it back out to Aeikens, who was beyond the three-point arc. He nailed the shot to give the Wolverines a 71-70 lead.
"You don't usually get over the mountaintop in a game like this," said Nelsen
But it was too much time left for a tournament-tested team. The Panthers sank its last six free throws to earn a trip to the state tournament. Gruis made two and Schilling had four to finish with 18 points.
"We just had to go all out. When they got up by one, we knew it was going to be either Schilling or Gruis," Nelsen said.
Seth Hinrichs added 10 points for the Wolverines and pulled down six rebounds. Aeikens added five assists and five steals.
Ellsworth 76, MACCRAY 71
Ellsworth (25-5)..................42 34 -- 76
MACCRAY (28-1)................39 32 -- 71
ELLSWORTH - 24 FG (7 3-pt); 21-27 FT; rebounds not available; 11 fouls ... Scoring: Nick Nolte 12, Dalton Huisman 18, Casey Schilling 18, Trevor Gruis 24, Matt Buntjer 2, Tyler Crapa 2 ... 3-point shots: Nolte 2, Schilling 2, Huisman 3 ... Rebound, assist and steal leaders not available
MACCRAY - 29 FG (9 3-pt); 4-8 FT; 21 rebounds; 21 fouls ... Scoring: Shaun Condon 31, Dylan Aeikens 21, Darrin Caspers 4, Seth Hinrichs 10, Riley Aeikens 2, Caleb Hanson 3 ... 3-point shots: Condon 4, D. Aeikens 3, Hinrichs 2 ... Rebound leaders: Hinrichs 6, Caspers 5 ... Assist leaders: D. Aeikens 5, Hanson 5 ... Steal leaders: D. Aeikens 5