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Boys' basketball: Ellsworth grinds out third-straight win with team effort

The Ellsworth Panthers claimed a gritty, team 55-51 win over the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks on Thursday, Dec. 20. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Logan Benson led all scorers with 27 points in Ellsworth's 55-51 win over Baldwin-Woodville on Thursday, Dec. 20. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Mason Anderson hit three 3-pointers and got to the four times in the Ellsworth Panthers' 55-51 win over Baldwin-Woodville on Thursday, Dec. 20. Photo courtesy of Jon Claesson3 / 3

After claiming a galvanizing win against the Prescott Cardinals earlier in the week, the Ellsworth Panthers boys' basketball team was tasked with taking down another worthy competitor on Thursday, Dec. 20, in their home game against the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks.

The Panthers (3-2, 3-0) managed to claim a 55-51 Middle Border Conference win over the Blackhawks (5-3, 2-2) despite their guests' physicality and evident desperation to beat the Panthers on their home court.

"We knew coming in that it'd be a battle against a big, physical team, and I think we expended a lot of energy on Tuesday night, so we knew it was going to be a battle," Panthers' head coach Jordan Petersen said. "I thought our intensity level was good, and I'm just proud of the way they fought and grinded and came out on top."

The Blackhawks entered the Panthers' court roaring with intensity that the Panthers were able to match for the majority of the game. The Panthers claimed their largest lead of the first half at 17-11 when Shane Lange hit a 3-pointer in front of the Blackhawks' bench and Logan Benson sunk one of two free throws, but the Blackhawks tied the game up with three buckets — including an old-fashioned three-pointer — and never gave the Panthers anything easy.

The Panthers hit six 3s in the first half — three of which came from sophomore Mason Anderson — and were led by senior Logan Benson who scored nine points in the final four minutes of the first half to help the Panthers take a 33-31 lead over their guests at halftime.

Benson finished the game with 27 points to lead all scorers, but he relied on the contributions from his teammates to come back from a 48-42 deficit in the final seven minutes of the MBC matchup.

"It's been a process for me as well just trusting other guys to step up and make plays, but this week we had big contributions from guys," Petersen said. "Lucas Mallon came in tonight and played great defense and got some rebounds for us. Terrell Peterson came in and gave us great minutes. I think guys are just stepping up, and as the year continues, we expect them to grow as well."

Facing their largest deficit of the night, the seemingly gassed Panthers managed to pull out the win by remaining confident and communicating with their teammates, and doing so allowed them to go on a 7-0 run before the 3:30 mark. Ellsworth reclaimed the lead with free throws from Anderson and Benson, an Ivan-Mendez-to-Benson find in the paint, a jump shot from Cole Woodland, and a change in their defense.

"We were getting beat on some back-door stuff and in the post, and I thought we'd still be able to contest their shooters," Petersen said when asked why he switched to a 1-2-2 zone defense late in the game. "Mainly, we just needed something different. We've been working on it all season, but we haven't put it in a game yet. We were a little nervous, but we needed something different and I was confident in them."

Petersen's confidence in his players translated onto the court where, though exhausted, the short-handed Panthers were able to come up with a huge block from Benson before sealing the deal at the charity stripe. Ellsworth landed a 54-51 lead before the Blackhawks missed a game-tying 3-point attempt with 18 ticks to go. Benson made one last trip to the free-throw line where he set the final score at 55-51.

"They were gassed at the end, but I think it's a good time to be coming up on winter break here," Petersen said. "It was a tough turnaround going Tuesday and Thursday with two very tough teams, but those are the types of games that we have to grind out."

The Panthers played the majority of Thursday night's game without starting point guard Erik Lange who hit his head hard before the Panthers scored any points in the game.

"We don't have the most experienced team, especially without Erik out there, but they were confident the entire time and very composed," Petersen said.

Benson may have contributed over half of his team points on Thursday night, but there's no doubt that the Panthers are becoming more than just a one-man show. They'll have another chance to show off their team play on Thursday, Dec. 27, when they face the Glenwood City Hilltoppers (2-5) on the road at 5 p.m.

Scoring for the Panthers: Benson 27, Anderson 15, Woodland 6, S. Lange 4, Mendez 3