by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Top-ranked Park Center trailed Elk River most of the game but the Quinton Hooker-led Pirates dominated the last nine minutes and handed the Elks their first lost 76-63 Friday evening.
Junior forward Clay Elrod poured in 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to keep the Elks in the game most of the way at Park Center. Porter Morrell added 13 for the Elks, now 7-1.
Hooker, a sweet-shooting guard whom both coaches see as this year’s Mr. Basketball, sank 27 points, 12 of them in the final nine minutes. Treyton Daniels, another senior guard, added 22 for the Pirates (10-1).
Park Center may have been a bit fatigued after losing to DeLaSalle, Class 3A’s top-ranked team, 74-60 the night before. The Elks took advantage and led by as much as six. They had their last lead at 49-48.
“I was proud of how we played,” said Elk coach Randy Klasen. “The two things we always talk about that we can control are effort and attitude. I thought played extremely hard. The effort was there.”
Klasen said he felt the team showed it can play with a team of that quality.
“But we had too many turnovers in the second half,” he assessed. “What Park Center does really well is pressure your passes. It’s very difficult to run your half court offense against them.”
Pushing the ball on offense and pressuring the ball on defense is what makes Park Center go, said coach Bo Powell. They’re especially troublesome with their quick hands on defense, constantly knocking the ball away, pouncing on it and motoring the other way.
“We talk a lot about active hands and deflecting the ball,” said Powell. “If you can get your hands on the ball on defense, most of the time good things are going to happen.”
The Elks came into the game 7-0 but had played only two teams with winning records. Park Center had beaten the No. 2 and 5 ranked teams, Apple Valley and Osseo.
Powell, asked what concerned him about Elk River, said: “They run a very good offense. They are very patient, and they are very, very well-coached …. Number 24 (Elrod), I liked him especially, because he is a shooter and a multifaceted player who can post up and do a lot of things.”
Hooker, a silky-smooth 6-foot point guard, shot 9-for-10 at the line, hit a pair of three’s, and grabbed seven rebounds, while menacing the Elks’ passing lanes along with his teammates.
“He is the best player in the state,” declared Powell. “He is a coach’s dream. He will do everything you ask, on and off the court. It will be a shame if he is not Mr. Basketball.”
Klasen, who’s faced Hooker for three seasons, couldn’t argue with that.
“Hooker is a great player, and right now, if you talk to most basketball people, he is the odds-on favorite for Mr. Basketball.”
Shortly after the Elks had a 45-40 lead, Park Center took the lead with a pair of 3-point shots for a 54-49 edge, Hooker expanded it to 60-54 when he sank two free shots, then swiped the ball from Morrell shooting a layup on the other end and sped coast-to-coast for a three-point play on a layup. He would make six more free throws and a soaring, underhand lay-in down the stretch.
Elrod, who led the Elks in scoring with 18 ppg as a sophomore, played his best-ever game, hitting 12 of 18 shots (2-for-3 on three’s) and 4-for-6 at the line while grabbing 11 rebounds.
“It was great to see Clay step up like that in a big game,” said Klasen.
Rebounds was the one area where the Elks had the edge, 39-33, with Bryan Edwards adding nine boards. The Elks didn’t shoot as well as they needed to pull the upset, going 22-for-52 from the field (3-for-13 on three’s) and 16-for-26 at the line. And their 12 turnovers in the second half were game-changing.
Park Center shot 26-for-53 (5-for-17 on three’s) from the field and 19-for-32 at the line.
It was an exciting challenge for an unbeaten Elk team to face a top-ranked power, especially in a conference setting. Klasen said the Elks will learn from their mistakes, especially in passing, when they get a rematch at home Feb. 15.
The last time the Elks faced a No. 1 was 2001 when Osseo beat them twice while holding the top spot. In December 2005 the Elks were No. 1 when they lost to No. 2 Tartan at the Tartan tournament, with the Titans taking over the top spot the following week. That was the Tyler Macomber-led Elk team that placed third in the state.
The NWSC leader board now has Park Center at 6-0, Osseo at 5-1, and the Elks at 4-1.
The Elks will host Champlin Park on Tuesday.
Elk scoring — Zach Ernst 5 (2 ast), Porter Morrell 13 (3 ast, 4 reb), Clay Elrod 30 (11 reb), Terry Hadden 2 (5 reb), Max Person 5 (6 reb), Isaac Howard 4 (2 ast), Bryan Edwards 4 (9 reb, 6 ast)
Team stats —Shooting: 22-52 FG (3-13 3pt), 16-26 FT