Sterling pulls off another upset against Ellinwood

Published: Mar. 5, 2022 at 10:03 PM CST
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SUBLETTE, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Twice in two seasons Sterling beat out Ellinwood in the substate championship game. This year was going to be different for the Eagles, who spent virtually all season ranked in the Class 2A top-five and entered Saturday’s substate title game against - who else - with just two competitive losses to ranked teams from Pratt (4A) and Southeast of Saline (3A).

But the Black Bears were not quite willing to concede. After winning just one of its first five games of the season, Sterling won 16 of its next 17 contests heading into Saturday’s big rematch. Make it 17 of 18. The Black Bears led 29-12 at the half and advance to a third-straight state tournament with a 48-42 win.

“It’s amazing because of the caliber of team Ellinwood is,” said Sterling coach Derek Schneider. “Coach (Derek) Joiner does an excellent job. He works his tail off over there, and his team works its tail off. (Eagle junior Britton Dutton) is an awesome player, and the other guys are, too. We were fortunate tonight their outside shot didn’t fall early. That’s we hoped would happen. Their shots started to fall in the third quarter and that’s when things got dicey for us. But I was proud of our guys to regroup and continue pinching Dutton. The bottom line is, if you don’t stop him, the game’s over.”

The shots did not fall early for Ellinwood with just two field goal makes in the first quarter. That figure dropped to one in the second quarter. Sterling compounded the matter by out-rebounding the Eagles 16-7 in the first half.

“(Ellinwood senior Cody Zink) is a glass machine,” Schneider said. “We said before the game, the only way we can probably stop Dutton is to help from the post because he drives so much from the top. What that also means is we were going to have to leave (Ellinwood junior Parker Scheck) or Zink on the glass, and that terrified me because those guys dominate down there.”

Offensively for the Bears, senior Cody Oden got the ball rolling with eight points in the opening frame as Sterling pulled ahead 17-8.

Dutton picked up a third foul just two minutes and change into the second quarter. The Bears continued to attack. A Kaz Comley steal led to free throws, then sophomore Colby Beagley upped the lead to 27-10 with a trey just past the midway point in the second. The gap still stood at 29-12 by halftime.

Then the Eagles began to claw back, erasing 10 points off the deficit in less than five minutes. Dutton and Drew Heinz each hit threes for Ellinwood, then Dutton found Scheck in the paint for a 31-24 score.

Sterling senior Zach Surface ended that run with a long 3-pointer in the final 70 seconds of the third. An and-one from Comley pushed the lead back to 37-24 with just one quarter remaining.

Ellinwood again battled back. Even with Scheck on the bench with five fouls, Dutton put up 12 points in the final quarter. Still, more free throws from Comley kept Sterling on top 43-32 with just 1:36 to play.

The Eagles made things exciting in those final 96 seconds, getting as close as 45-40 on a Dutton steal and layup with just 30 ticks remaining. Surface provided the final dagger with a pair of free throws 11 seconds later.

Dutton battled foul trouble but still led all players with 21 points. Scheck added 10 points before fouling out with 5:06 remaining in the contest. Ellinwood, with just one senior on its roster in Zink, ends the season at 20-3.

Oden paced the Black Bears with 15 points. Comley did most of his damage from the free throw line to finish with 12 points, and Surface added 11 points. Sophomore Gabe Riffel finished with just five points but grabbed 13 rebounds.

Sterling is 17-1 over its last 18 games to move to 18-5 on the season. Class 3A lost an unbeaten Saturday as Hesston downed Cheney in Nickerson. That will help keep the field wide open for the Bears next week in Manhattan.

“One thing I’ve been doing since Covid is digging into our basketball history,” Schneider said. “It’s amazing some of the names and things we’ve had in our history, and what the girls have done over the last couple of years.

“I feel like this group was maybe counted out early because we started at 1-4. I’m just proud of them for being able to get there. Three years is awesome and we’re happy. State is hard to get to. A lot of people go and don’t go back for a long time. We’re going to enjoy it and go play our tails off.”

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