Park Center out measures Elks in 80-71 win

Sports Director

by Eric Oslund

Sports Reporter

The Elk River boys basketball team were riding a five-game winning streak heading into their Valentine’s Day matchup with Park Center, but they were not wearing the rose-tinted glasses so many love birds had on that day when the clock hit zero. Instead, they were forced to leave their home gym with an 80-71 loss.

Elk River's Jack Burger eludes the block attempt of Park Center's DJ Purnell and scores on a reverse layup to give the Elks a 30-29 lead at the half.  Burger had a game high 24 points. (photo by Erik Jacobson)
Elk River’s Jack Burger eludes the block attempt of Park Center’s DJ Purnell and scores on a reverse layup to give the Elks a 30-29 lead at the half. Burger had a game high 24 points. (photo by Erik Jacobson)

From the start, the Elks knew this was going to be a tough game for them. Park Center has been considered one of the top teams in the state for a majority of the year, and they matched up very well with the home team. Size has been a weakness for the Elks all season, and that is something that Park Center has plenty of.

In the end, that size and presence underneath the basket took its toll on the Elks, leading to multiple rebounds and second chances for their opponents.

“We played well, they played well, and the main difference, really in the second half, we just had a hard time stopping them from scoring,” said Elk River head coach Randy Klasen. “They rebounded really well and had a big advantage on the boards. In the second half they were able to penetrate, get inside and finish strong at the rim a lot better. That was really the difference in the game.”

This size disadvantage has been something that the Elks have been dealing with all season, and will need to continue to try and overcome as they start preparing for the section tournament. But how can they do that? How can they out rebound teams that have players measuring in at 6-5, while some of their leading rebounders are 6-0?

According to Klasen, they just need to work harder than their opponents.

Blake Hills finished the night with eight points, but was one of Elk River's leading rebounders. (Photo by Erik Jacobson)
Blake Hills finished the night with eight points, but was one of Elk River’s leading rebounders. (Photo by Erik Jacobson)

“Part of rebounding is just trying to be aggressive, work to be in good position and pursuing the basketball,” the head coach explained. “That’s what you really need to be able to do.”

There were stretches during their game against Park Center where the Elks seemed to have the upper hand rebounding, and the ones often coming away with the ball were Jacob Heyne and Blake Hills – both of whom measure in around 6-0.

Another thing that will continue to help out the Elks as the season rolls on, is the continued integration of Cameron Cotton back into the lineup.

Cotton is the Elks starting center and he’s had to miss a majority of the season with an ankle injury. He has been working his way back into the lineup for a couple weeks now, but he still isn’t quite 100 percent. Once he is healthy and back in playing shape, he will provide the Elks with size under the basket.

“When you’re out that long with an ankle injury, you lose your basketball conditioning,” Klasen said of Cotton. “Just developing his stamina and adjusting to the pace of the game and all that. He’s been doing a good job. It’s a real plus for us when he is back and contributing.”

The Elks fell to 13-8 overall after their loss to Park Center, but have plenty of time to get things back on tack before the section tournament. They have five games remaining – two more at home – with their next game taking place on Friday, Feb. 17.

Box score vs. Park Center

Jack Burger – 24 points

Wyatt Morrell – 14 points

Noah Weege – 11 points

Jacob Heyne – 9 points

Blake Hills – 8 points

Cameron Cotton – 3 points

Andrew Hess – 2 points