by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Terry Hadden sank two free shots with 13 seconds left as Elk River squeezed past Champlin Park 64-63 at home Tuesday evening, with the Elks’ twin pillars, Clay Elrod and Porter Morrell, carrying them up to that point.
Elrod, 6-foot-6 junior forward, laid in 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Morrell, 6-foot-1 senior point, delivered 20 points and five assists.
The Elks, coming off their first loss of the season, 76-63 to top-ranked Park Center on Friday, survived this time in their second straight grueling conference test, against a team with superior speed and a penchant for turning steals into quick points.
Asked about the leadership of his two returning all-conference players, coach Randy Klasen said, “Clay has been playing with more intensity and energy lately. And Porter, he is so solid, like rock. How many turnovers did he have tonight?”
Morrell, handling the ball most of the time, had only three of the team’s 17 turnovers against the thieving Pirates.
In the final 20 seconds, with the Rebels locking down hard on Morrell and Elroy — who got the ball with 20 seconds left but, double-teamed, had to give it up — Hadden took matters in his own hands.
The senior guard drove the right side of the lane into traffic, found nobody to pass to, went up, got fouled, and pushed up an off-balance shot that missed.
“I was looking to drive and dish off to somebody open,” Hadden said, “because usually when I do that the defense comes down on me.”
Hadden, 11-for-16 at the line for the season, had missed the front end of a one-and-one a couple minutes earlier, but with the game on the line, swished the first attempt, then was a hair off on the second attempt but got the roll.
“I focused better on those because I knew it was crunch time,” said Hadden, who had five points.
The nimble three-sport athlete (safety and kick returns in football, pitcher and outfielder in baseball), said he was happy to go to the line in that situation.
“I liked it,” he said. “I like having the pressure.”
Champlin Park had 13 seconds to counter but the Elks blanketed them one-on-one until a Rebel guard traveled trying to get off a short jumper while tightly guarded with half a second left.
The Elks, who broke into the Class 4A top ten this week at No. 9, improved to 5-1 in conference and 8-1 overall. Champlin Park is 3-3 in conference and 6-3 overall.
Elrod shot a scalding 12-for-14 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line. He tallied 18 of his 26 points in the second half when he was almost unstoppable, slithering along the baseline, around and over whatever defender took him, mostly for point-blank shots.
That makes it two straight outstanding games for Elrod, who had 30 points at Park Center. He’s shot 24-for-32 from the field those two games.
Elrod, who’d been averaging 13 points before the break, compared to 18 his sophomore season, attributed this resurgence to increased zeal, with a gentle nudge from his coach.
“During holiday break the coach was talking to me about, where was my passion for the game?” Elrod said. “Because it didn’t seem like I was bringing it all. I thought about what he said, and decided that this is what I want to do, and I have to bring more passion to the game.”
Morrell got his 20 on 8-for-12 shooting (2-for-4 on three’s) plus 2-for-3 at the line.
Klasen also praised backup forward Isaac Howard for “a huge spark” in the second half. The 6-foot senior didn’t score but made four steals and grabbed four rebounds.
Champlin Park sophomore guard J.T. Gibson sank five 3-pointers and totaled 17 points while junior forward Brennan Witt added 14 points and senior guard Andrew Aakre 10.
Neither team wasted many chances as far as shooting the ball went. The Elks hit 26-for-39 and Champlin Park 25-for-41 from the field. The Rebels were better outside the arc, 7-for-16 to the Elks’ 3-for-13. The Elks cashed nine of 11 free shots and had a 24-16 rebound edge.
Champlin Park made 10 steals and usually converted them into two quick points.
“Yeah, they don’t mess around,” said Klasen.
Gibson’s three-pointer with 50 seconds left gave the Rebels a 63-60 lead. Elrod made it 63-62 with yet another baseline move. The Rebels suffered a bad pass that Bryan Edwards picked off, giving the Elks a chance to win in the final half-minute.
The Elks, in the midst of four games in eight days, will play at Maple Grove on Thursday evening and host Monticello on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Elk River 64, Champlin Park 63
Elk River — Clay Elrod 26 (7 reb), Porter Morrell 20 (4 reb, 5 ast), Terry Hadden 5 (3 ast)), Isaac Howard 0 (4 reb, 4 ast), Bryan Edwards 6 (5 reb, 4 ast), Cody Christ 2