by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
This year’s River Battle matched a veteran, unbeaten Elk River squad and a struggling, all-rookie Rogers lineup but still wound up being a scrap from start to finish.
The Elks prevailed 61-54 at home Saturday, after trailing by five at halftime, led by Porter Morrell with 25 points and Bryan Edwards with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
“Playing Rogers is always special,” said Edwards, “because it’s the River Battle, and we have lost to them the last couple of years.”
The Elks (7-0) snapped a three-game losing streak against Rogers (2-5), which graduated its entire starting lineup from the team that beat the Elks twice last year.
“This is what you have come to expect with this rivalry,” said Elks coach Randy Klasen. “It doesn’t matter who the quote better team is supposed to be. Both teams step up and play hard.”
Added Morrell: “This game is awesome. We always get a good crowd. The last two years we have lost to them, but they are always a fun game to play in.”
The Elks now lead the rivalry 8-2 but Rogers nipped the Elks 78-75 and 58-56 the last two years, and added a 61-55 win at the Tartan tournament last year.
Led by returning starters Morrell, Edwards and Clay Elrod, the Elks seemed poised to rack up a decisive win much like the first seven years of the River Battle.
Instead, Rogers was up 32-27 at halftime, led by Ryan Gelle, who scored all 10 of his points before halftime with two 3-pointers, two free shots and a steal and basket in the final seconds.
“I was surprised (to be behind) but I think we handled it pretty well and took it to them in the second half,” said Edwards. “They had a couple good shooters and they came to play.”
The Elks scored off a couple turnovers just after halftime, starting the second half with a 7-0 run. The Elks led by as much as 50-39 but Rogers never went away. A pair of long 3-pointers by Luke Pecka in the final minute got them back within five before the Elks nailed it down.
Morrell shot 10-for-23 from the field (two 3-pointers) and 3-for-4 at the line for his 25 points.
“I want to give the glory to God, that’s the first thing I want to say,” said the senior point guard.
Terry Hadden was next with eight points for the Elks.
Pecka scored 12, Cole Murray 11 and Gelle 10 for Rogers.
About the victory, he reflected, “We understand that this game might not mean anything, because we might have to play them again and that game would be more important.”
That would be in the playoffs as they play in the same section.
The Elks’ 7-0 record has come against teams with a combined 16-30 record. The only two above .500 are Blaine (5-3) and STMA (4-3). After the break they’ll start facing the tougher NWSC rivals, starting with top-ranked Park Center there on Jan. 4.
No holiday tournament for Elks
Rogers and Elk River have both gone from the River Battle to the Tartan Invitational in recent years. Rogers will again play at Tartan — they face Columbia Heights on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. — but the Elks will sit this one out.
For the first time since 1982, the Elks will not play in a Christmas tournament. They’ve played at Tartan since 2004.
“It’s going to be different,” said Klasen. “We have been playing well and you would like to keep playing. On the other hand, it will nice to give families a chance to get away and have quality time together.”
The Elks traded the tournament for non-conference games against section rivals STMA and Brainerd.
Elk River 61, Rogers 54
Rogers ………..….. 31 23 — 54
Elk River ………… 27 34 — 61
Rogers — Gunnar Bloom 6, Cullen Loughlin 7, Ryan Gelle 10 (4 reb), Sam Spilles 4 (4 reb, 3 blk, 5 stl), Cole Murray 11 (2 blk), Reid Sagehorn 1, Luke Pecka 12 …. Team: 21 FG (7 3pt), 5-6 FT, 21 rebounds, 11 fouls
Elk River — Porter Morrell 25 (3 ast, 3 reb, 2 stl), Terry Hadden 8 (3 reb, 2 ast), Max Person 4 (4 reb), Bryan Edwards 13 (16 reb, 3 stl, 2 blk), Clay Elrod 3 (4 reb), Isaac Howard 2, Zach Ernst 5, Mitch Weege 1 …. Team: 24 FG (4 3pt), 9-13 FT; 31 rebounds; 11 fouls