3/6/2013 11:57:00 AM Shooting woes cost Warriors trip to State
Rice Lake senior Ellwood Ellenson leaps above Hilltoppers for two of his 14 points in sectional semifinal game. Photo by Steve Kinderman, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
For the second straight year, Onalaska surged in the fourth quarter to stop Rice Lake's bid for state in a boys' basketball Division 2 marque match-up. This time the Hilltoppers' takeover came out of nowhere, after Rice Lake went on an 8-0 run to draw within 36-35 with 7 minutes to play. Onalaska got points from four different players in an 11-4 run over the game's final 7 minutes for a 47-39 win in the sectional semifinal last Thursday at Zorn Arena in Eau Claire. Rice Lake missed eight straight shots in the fourth quarter, summing up the Warriors' shooting woes of 28% from the field, including 3 of 26 (12%) from three-point range. "We played one of our better defensive games all year. If we could just have knocked down some shots it would have been a different story," said Warriors coach Kevin Orr. Onalaska (24-2) entered the game as the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Division 2, the same as a year ago when the Hilltoppers eliminated the Warriors with a 10-point win. Onalaska will have a chance to defend its state title after Saturday's 64-54 sectional final win over Hortonville. Rice Lake's season ends at 20-5. The Warriors came into the sectional ranked No. 5 in the state. Despite the off-target shooting night and falling behind 28-20 early in the second half, Rice Lake battled back behind a trey by Brandyn Christman, two bank-in buckets by Ellwood Ellenson and 6-foot-9 sophomore Henry Ellenson's five points in the third quarter. When Henry Ellenson muscled inside for the first two points of the fourth quarter, Onalaska's lead had shrunk to 36-35, and the Warriors seemingly had all the momentum in the front of the sold-out college arena crowd. But Onalaska's star guard Matt Thomas, a 6-foot-4 senior who will play basketball at Iowa State, steadied his team with a perfect pass to senior forward Dustin Gordon slipping inside for a bucket. Junior Connor Gavin, the only non-senior starter for the Hilltoppers, followed with a drive down the lane for a 40-35 lead with 5:45 to play. Rice Lake's untimely cold shooting was further hampered by two turnovers while Onalaska made its surge. After the game went 2 minutes with no one scoring, Onalaska coach Craig Kowal decided to sit on his five-point lead, play defense and seal the win with free throws. Orr said his team needed that one more bucket early in the quarter to get the lead and prevent the stall. "If we could have got the lead then I think we could have pulled them out of that zone. (With the lead) they are very solid handling the basketball and running their offense," said Orr. The Hilltoppers ran a minute off the clock before Clint Rihn went to the free throw line for one point. Rice Lake then missed three shots in the matter of 30 seconds after getting two offensive rebounds. Gavin's two free throws and another Rice Lake long ball miss followed. Thomas' slam dunk with 55 seconds showing gave Onalaska a 10-point lead and a date in the next game. Thomas finished with 18 points to lead the Hilltoppers, but well below his 28 points-per-game average. Defending Thomas fell mostly to Rice Lake senior guard Adam West, who gave up 4 inches to Thomas. "Adam did a good job, but give credit to his teammates, too, for their help off of screens. It was a team effort on defense," said Orr. Though Thomas had a pedestrian shooting night-6 of 21 from the field and 5 of 9 from the line-he hurt the Warriors in ways other than his 18 points. The star guard had six assists and 13 of his team's 27 rebounds. Onalaska's balanced attack included 10 points each from Gavin and the hefty 6-foot-4 Connor Helgeson, who drained a pair of three-pointers in the first half to help Onalaska take leads of 11-8 after one quarter and 26-20 at the half. The Ellenson brothers led Rice Lake, Henry with 16 points and Ellwood with 14. Ellwood's six points late in the first quarter kept the Warriors close, and his three-pointer to open the second knotted the game at 11-11. The 11-11 score was the only time the game was tied, and Rice Lake never led. But besides the Ellensons, only two Warriors scored-Christman with seven points and West with two. Rice Lake got only two points from its backcourt, those coming on West's putback bucket late in the game. The Hilltoppers shot 40% from the field and made 4 of 14 three-pointers. Rice Lake had the rebounding margin, 37-27, led by Henry Ellenson's 19 boards. West had three rebounds to go with three assists and a steal in his final game as he and Ellwood Ellenson were the only seniors starting. Both teams had only seven turnovers. "We battled and we played very hard. The kids' effort was really good. It's sad when the season ends with such a great group of kids," said Orr.