by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Zach Ernst missed a chance to give Elk River a win over Blaine in overtime, his team was both comforting and prophetic.
“They just said, nice try, don’t worry, you’ll get them in the next overtime,” said the sophomore guard.
The Elks won 80-68 as Ernst broke the game open with three straight breakaway layups in the second extra session.
While Ernst tallied 14 points and four steals, Clay Elrod scored 27 points and Porter Morrell 22 as the Elks rallied from a 12-point deficit to avert an upset. Bryan Edwards added 11 points.
“The most credit for this win should go to Zach,” said Morrell, who gets a little himself, also posting nine rebounds, six assists and five steals. “He did a phenomenal job pressuring their point guard, and he must have had about five layups in the overtime.”
Scoring 15 each for Blaine were Matt Barthels, junior wing, and Justin Mbanefo, senior post.
The Elks, down 31-23 at the half, trailed by as much as 12 in the second half, struggling both ends of the court, but gradually picked it up on both ends.
“I can’t recall a game where we came from that far behind and won,” said Morrell, a three-year starter. “We had a comeback like that against Armstrong once and lost in double overtime.”
They kept hustling. One big play was supplied by Terry Hadden, who, after missing a 3-pointer, dropped back on defense and made a leaping interception. Seconds later he got the ball to Elrod in the corner for a three-point shot that pulled the Elks within two.
The Elks were just 6-for-21 for the game on three’s but Morrell canned one that cut the lead to one and Elrod hit another from the corner that tied the score at 64 with 20 seconds left. The Elk defense held, with Blaine missing its lone shot and overtime ensued.
With the score 66- 66, the Elks tossed the ball around for the last 1:45 of the first overtime but missed three shots in the last six seconds. Elrod drove the baseline and missed the layup. Edwards missed a point-blank tip-in with the ball leaking out of bounds with 3.2 seconds left. Edwards stole the inbounds pass and fed Ernst for a wide-open 15-footer. Ernst missed, and Morrell’s tip-in was good but a split second late.
No matter. The Elks were cooking defensively by then and Blaine couldn’t hang unto the ball, with four turnovers in the first overtime and seven more in the second. The Elks, up 72-68, pulled away quickly as Ernst scored after steal the ball, then twice more in succession on breakaways after teammates made steals.
Asked what turned it around, Morrell assessed: “Our defensive intensity. We pride ourselves on that, but we were struggling on defense for much of the game. In the overtime, we were really locking down on them.”
Blaine is just 4-10 in conference and 6-13 overall but has given Elk River fits. The Elks (9-4 conference, 14-5 overall) won the first duel 48-45 on a 3-pointer by Morrell with 20 seconds left.
The Elks wound up with 80 despite shooting poorly most of the game from the field. They finished 27-for-68, including 6-for-21 on three’s, but nailed 20 of 24 free shots, led by Elrod who was 9-for-9.
The Elks will play at Andover on Friday.
Elk River 80, Blaine 68
Blaine ……… 31 33 2 2 — 68
Elk River …. 23 41 2 14 — 80
Elk River — Porter Morrell 22 (6 ast, 10 reb, 5 stl), Clay Elrod 26, Terry Hadden 2, Max Person 4, Zach Ernst 14 (4 stl), Bryan Edwards 11 (7 reb, 2 stl) … Team: 27-68 FG (6-21 3FG), 20-24 FT