by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The game that ended Elk River’s season followed a familiar script Tuesday evening.
The Elks and Bemidji were tied 64-64 with a minute left in their Section 8AAAA opener. The Elks had 17 nail-biters like that in 27 games. They won seven of the first 10 close ones, but lost the last seven, including this one.
After rallying from a 64-57 deficit to knot the score at 64, the Elks had the ball with 1:05 left, but turned it over on a bad pass with 40 seconds on the clock, and Bemidji’s Carey Woods hit the dagger, a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
The Elks had one last chance, but their sophomore scoring leader Clay Elrod, who had 20 points, was just short on a 3-pointer, hounded by Woods, and the season was over.
“It came down the last possession, like it always does with us, and they were the ones ending up making the big shot,” said Elk junior guard Porter Morrell, who scored 15 points, as did his brother, senior guard Tucker Morrell.
“It’s too bad. We really felt like we had a strong team, and everyone loved each other.”
The Elks, who were 12-6 at one point, finished 14-13, on the heels of a 7-20 season with almost everybody back.
A subdued Ryan Ness, senior guard, reflected, “It was a fun season to be a part of. I am really glad I got to play with these guys. We did very well compared to what people expected from us, but we didn’t get what we wanted.”
Ending their prep careers were Ness, Tucker Morrell, Landon Werner, Coleman Hayes, and deep reserves Kyle Patterson and Preston Hinseth.
“I feel bad for the seniors and it’s tough on me, too,” said Porter Morrell. “Tucker and I have played together since we were three and four, so it’s hard.”
Bemidji (14-12), the No. 6 seed, knocked off the No. 3 seed and advanced to the semifinals against Rogers.
“The whole year has been like this for us, and I think for Elk River, too,” said Bemidji coach Jeff Brown, referring to the cardiac finishes. “I thought it was a great game and both teams played really hard.”
Bemidji leaders were Cody Rutledge and Woods. Rutledge,, speedy 6-1 forward with a 40-inch vertical, notched 21 points, including several reverse layups, plus 9 rebounds. Woods, a 6-1 guard, hit 13 points and killed the Elks on the defensive boards, grabbing 15 of them (he had 16 total).
Porter Morrell had 14 of his 15 points in the first half with the Elks leading 37-35. Elrod had 14 of his 20 in the second half, mostly on snaky, feisty inside moves.
Tucker Morrell hit 5-of-11 on 3-pointers for his 15 points. Landon Werner, backup guard, contributed 9 points and 3 rebounds. Ness, Elk 3-sport star, had a tough hoops finale with one point and a crucial turnover.
The Elks had a burst of outside shooting in the first half that gave them a 37-31 lead and forced Bemidji out of the zone defense it favors. But Bemidji fared much better with man-to-man as the Elks struggled with outside shooting from then on.
“We played more man-to-man than we have all year,” said Brown. “I thought we played really good man-to-man in the last six minutes … and we controlled the defensive glass in the second half.”
The Lumberjacks were within 37-35 at the break, and led throughout the second half except for a some brief ties. Connor Sullivan added 12 points and Davaughn Rley 10 for Bemidj.
The Lumberjacks opened a 64-57 lead with 3:15 left as the Elks were visibly pressing with their shooting.
Then the Ellks came alive as Tucker Morrell drilled a long 3-pointer, Werner sank two free shots after grabbing an offensive rebound, and Elrod scored on a rebound to pull even at 64-64.
The Elks made a couple more defensive stops and got the ball with 1:05 left. They worked it around for 30 seconds before turning it over on as Ness flipped the ball out-of-bounds trying to get it down low to a post.
Needing one last stop, the Elks almost forced a turnover with about 15 seconds left as Werner batted the ball away, but Bemidji beat the Elks to the loose ball at midcourt. A second later, somebody whipped it to Woods just outside the arc on the right side, and the four-year starter swished a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
The Elks called time-outs with 10 and 7 seconds left. It came down to Elrod firing up a high-arching shot from the top of the key that bounded off the front rim.
“The drew up that play for me in the huddle and I got the last shot, but it felt a little off balance,” lamented Elrod. “Woods was right up on me.”
In a season defined by close games, the Elks rode high for a while and were tied for the conference at one point but they lost their clutch mojo the last few weeks.
“The first half of the season we won them all, and in the second half, we hit a bumpy road,” said Elrod.
Bemidji 67, Elk River 64
Bemidji ……… 35 32 – 67
Elk River ……. 37 27 – 64
Bemidji – Davaughn Railey 10, Cody Rutledge 21 (9 reb), Mitch Brown 4, Brandon Supalia 2, Carey Wood 13 (16 reb, 4 ast), JC Cervenka 5, Connor Sullivan 12 … Team: 26-55 FG (3-14 3FG) 12-13 FT, 37 rebounds, 19 fouls
Elk River – Tucker Morrell 15, Ryan Ness 1 (5 ast, 5 reb), Porter Morrell 15 (5 ast, 7 reb), Clay Elrod 20 (7 reb), Terry Hadden 2, Landon Werner 9, Bryan Edwards 2 … Team: 21-59 FG (10-32 3FG), 12-18 FT, 34 rebounds, 11 fouls