Sterling stuns Ellinwood for fourth time, advances to substate finals

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 11:12 PM CST
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STERLING, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - The history is well known around central Kansas by now. Ellinwood has entered the Class 2A substate finals in each of the last three seasons as the favorite against Sterling. The Black Bears have made it to state all three times. Thursday, the one-loss Eagles were again the favorite, this time in the substate semfinals in Sterling. This time, the Black Bears overcame a 16-point deficit, taking their first lead of the game with 2:18 to play, and advancing with a 54-45 win.

“We just pounded the post, pounded the post, and stayed patient,” said Sterling Coach Derek Schneider. “Our guards, we weren’t hitting shots, but we also weren’t forcing up a bunch which has hurt us in years past because we just continued chucking. This year, I’ve been impressed how our team can morph into different things. When the guards aren’t getting shots to fall, they put their pride in their back pocket and pound the post. Those big guys, they can finish.”

Junior Gabe Riffel was huge against Ellinwood in last year’s substate game. This year he was joined by junior Carson Gray down low. The duo combined for 30 of Sterling’s first 32 points.

But the other big story of the night was fouls. Britton Dutton surpassed 2,000 career points last month. He scored seven points in the first quarter but picked up two fouls in the final six seconds of the opening frame. He went to the bench first with foul trouble, then with a fifth foul with 3:53 still to play. Ellinwood was clinging to a 40-38 lead at that point.

It barely lasted. Junior Isaac Briar tied the game with a 3-pointer with 3:22 remaining. After Ellinwood post Parker Scheck fouled out with 2:39 to play, a trey from freshman Blake Smith gave Sterling its first lead of the game at 45-42 with 2:18 on the clock. Gray and freshman Boston Ekart added late drives for the final scores.

Early on, the tied clearly favored Ellinwood. Junior Alek Brack made a pair of threes in the first quarter, and the Eagles led 16-6 after one. Ellinwood made seven of its first 14 shots from behind the arc and led by as many as 16 points in the first half. The Eagles were outscored 36-15 in the final two quarters.

“They were shooting the ball extremely well,” Schneider said. “All of them. They put it to me because that was obviously our game plan to see if they could beat us. We were going to throw multiple people on Dutton because he can score 50 at any given time. Credit to our guys for staying positive and continuing to grind. I don’t know if they trusted our game plan after came out stroking on us, but they continued do what I was coaching them to do.”

Dutton finished with 18 points in his prep finale. Brack added eight points for Ellinwood, and Scheck grabbed six rebounds and scored three points. Drew Heinz hit a pair of threes for his total. Gray and Riffel each scored 16 points for Sterling, and RIffel added six rebounds. Briar scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter.