by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Entering the playoffs with your floor leader and top scorer sidelined with the flu can be a bit scary.
That was the situation for the No. 3 seeded Elk River Elks as they hosted No. 6 Moorhead on Tuesday with Shelby Gracik watching from the bench in street clothes.
The Elks pulled together, though, and whipped the Spuds 68-44, mainly on the strength of a furious finish as they held a jittery 40-36 lead at one point.
“We were a little nervous, because she is our main ball hander,” said Anna Rollag, sophomore guard who led the Elks with 17 points. “We adjusted in practice without her, and we picked up our defense a lot. Me and ‘J’ handled the ball more. It didn’t matter who.”
Jordyn Sohns, who scored six points, took two charges, and alternated with Rollag at the point, took a mind-over-matter approach.
“If we had the thought that we were not going to do well without her, then we probably wouldn’t,” said Sohns. “I had the mindset that we were going to do well no matter what, and we would be back on Saturday to play with her.”
The Elks (15-12) will indeed play Saturday in the Section 8AAAA semifinals against Rogers (17-9) at St. Cloud State at 8 p.m. Gracik missed school Monday and part of Tuesday and reported that she was feeling better.
Moorhead (7-18) is a team Elk River would be expected to beat, but the turnover-prone Elks are hardly upset-proof, especially taking the floor without their most dependable veteran.
The Elks, using 11 players, showed a sense of urgency as they played some amped-up defense in the first half that resulted in many turnovers but even more fouls.
“We didn’t know how the kids were going to react,” said coach Reed Caouette. “We hoped they would give it extra effort, and everyone would step up and win it not only for the team but also for Shelby, and give her a chance to play in the section semifinals.”
In the last 10 minutes of the game, the Elks got all the kinks out and outscored the worn-down Spuds 28-8.
“Our kids stepped it up real well and added some scoring punch from different players,” said Caouette. “I thought our defense played well other than the foul trouble the first half, which I thought was just from all the extra effort.”
Along with Rollag’s 17, the Elks had freshman center Abi Scheid with 14 points, junior forward Molli Detloff with 10 and senior guard Holly Skalsky with nine. The Elks were 16-for-24 on free shots.
Rollag, who loves to take the ball full-court at top speed, had some success with her seemingly reckless drives as four went for layups (two of them nifty underhand roll-ins) and three others ended in free shots (making 5 of 6). Scheid struck for a pair of 3-point plays and snagged about 10 rebounds. Detloff, in double-digits for the first time since the first week of the season, got her points on penetrations. That include the game’s prettiest play as she scored on an alley-up toss from Scheid from the high post.
The Elks led 35-26 at halftime, getting a big boost from Skalsky’s outside shooting. She had all her nine points, including two 3-pointers, in the first half. Moorhead stayed close by capitalizing mightily on the Elks’ 18 fouls by sinking 17 of 26 free shots.
Moorhead junior guard Kelli Tonn sank 23 points, including 12-for-16 at the line, and went over 1,000 points in the first half. But nobody else scored more than five points. Their free throw shooting tailed off in the second half (6-for-13) and their final tally was 23-for-39 off 28 Elk fouls.
About the Elks’ strong finish, Rollag reflected: “We stopped fouling them, stopped bringing them to the line all the time.”
It turned out to be an entertaining and satisfying final home game for the Elks, including the last ever for Sohns and Skalsky, the lone seniors.
“I think we focused, and we watched our foul trouble because we knew that was going to come back at us,” said Sohns. “And we were forcing a lot of bad passes.”
The Elks now look ahead to a rematch with Rogers, whom they beat 58-51 at the River Battle in December. The District 728 siblings have met every year before Christmas but this will be the first time they’ve clashed in the playoffs.
Sohns said the Elks weren’t particular who they’ll play.
“It doesn’t matter — we’re going to beat them,” she smiled.
Top-seeded St. Michael-Albertville beat No. 8 Brainerd 65-31 while No. 2 Rogers ousted No. 6 Bemidji 53-45 and No. 4 St. Cloud Tech stopped No. 5 Buffalo 59-44.
In the semifinals Saturday, STMA (21-5) takes on Tech (17-10) at 6 p.m. prior to the Elks-Royals game. The finals will be held Friday, March 8, at St. John’s.
Elk scoring — Holly Skalsky 9, Jordyn Sohns 7, Jaime Langbeyn 6, Anna Rollag 17, Jess Langbeyn 3, Molli Detloff 10, Abi Scheid 14, Brittany Cornelius 2