CLAFLIN, Kan. Derek Joiner’s Ellinwood basketball teams posted back-to-back 14-win seasons to open his tenure at the school for the 2014-15 season. His Eagles won just 14 games over the next three seasons, finishing last winter at 6-15.
But Joiner never lowered his expectations for the 2019-20 season. With a handful of key freshmen joining some talented and experienced seniors, the stars were aligning for a big run.
The Eagles, playing without senior David Hammeke, lost their season opener to LaCrosse 50-45. Since then, Ellinwood has won seven-straight, including a 47-43 win at No. 5 Ellis before Christmas, a 61-44 win at reigning 2A champion Ness City on Saturday, and a 47-31 win at reigning 1A champion Central Plains on Tuesday.
“It’s a blast,” Hammeke said. “We definitely went through the down years, so it’s nice to finally be on top for once. Playing (at Central Plains) twice my sophomore year, we got blown out. It’s nice to come back two years later and beat them.”
The Eagles got a battle early on from an Oiler squad that entered the 2019-20 season riding a 54-game win streak. Central Plains junior Tyler Holmes opened scoring near the midway point of the opening quarter, and the Oilers held a 6-2 lead early on. Eagle freshman Tyler Stuhlsatz took a steal the distance to close the quarter with Central Plains still on top 8-7.
Ellinwood took the lead for good on a pair of slashes from Hammeke and freshman Brit Dutton early in the second. Hammeke scored six points in the quarter and Stuhlsatz added a trey at the buzzer to send the Eagles into the break with an 18-10 lead.
“That was by far the most physical game we’ve played,” Joiner said. “You have to give a lot of credit to those guys from Central Plains. They played hard and physical. In the first quarter that set our guys back. In the second and third quarters, our guys elevated and played with that toughness, energy, and intensity. I think we have better basketball players, and once we matched their energy and physicality, we stretched it out.”
Stuhlsatz entered the game averaging 11.3 points a night. He swished a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter in a stretch of five in a row. He went 5 for 7 from behind the arc on the night to lead all players with 21 points.
“People better get used to this because Tyler can score in bunches and he can score fast,” said Joiner. “It’s something I’ve been seeing for a long time. The beauty of our team now is David can have a big night, Britton can have a big night, or Tyler (Knop) can have a big night. Now we’re building our role players and they’ll be giving us bigger lifts on different nights, too.”
Ellinwood led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, then reached that mark again at 42-22 midway through the final quarter on an and-one from Dutton. The freshman scored 33 points in his second varsity game and entered the night averaging 19.7 points a game. He finished with seven points. Hammeke has scored 18 points a game after returning from an injury. He finished with 15 points Tuesday.
JJ Heredia and Bieberle each scored 10 points for Central Plains. Holmes added six points, and Lawson Oeser scored all five of his points in the fourth quarter.