Wolves clear first playoff hurdle

LAUNCHING a shot for the Wolves against Hill City was Brock Latourell in a home playoff game Wednesday.

by Tom Coombe -

Conditions were ripe for an upset, but the Ely Timberwolves weren’t about to be stung.
Despite the last-minute absence of a key starter, junior guard Eric Omerza, the high school boys basketball rolled to a Section 7A playoff victory Wednesday night, destroying Hill City 87-44.
Senior Patrick Vanderbeek scored a game-high 30 points while sophomore Will Davies made the most of his first career start, scoring 15 points and dishing out six assists.
The sixth-seeded Wolves improved to 17-10 and advanced to Saturday night’s quarterfinals and a matchup with three seed Lakeview Christian Academy at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
“Lakeview is a tough match up for us as they have shooters all over the floor and a very athletic post player. Hopefully we can find a defense to slow them down a bit,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald.
It didn’t figure to be so easy for the Wolves on Wednesday, especially after they lost Omerza to appendicitis just two days before the postseason began.
“I was a bit concerned without having Eric available but Will made the most of his first career start and played well on both ends of the floor,” said McDonald.
Hill City, which had the 11th seed, lost handily to the Wolves during the regular season but was poised to give the Wolves a battle after surging late in the season.
Host Ely quickly put an end to any upset aspirations by the visitors, taking extreme care of the ball and turning the ball over only four times on the night.
The Wolves quickly built a double-digit lead and it was 47-24 by halftime.
It was more of the same in the second half as the Wolves picked apart the Hornet defense.
Vanderbeek, a three-point shooting specialist who had added another dimension to his game with drives and mid-range shots, once again reached the 30-point mark and Davies picked up any slack created by the absence of Omerza, who seemed to flirt with a triple double nearly every night out during the tail end of the regular season.
Junior Dylan Fenske also continued to contribute scoring 13 points and winding up one rebound shy of a double-double.
Late in the game, the contest went into running time and an appreciative home crowd got something to cheer about when senior Alex Motes, a reserve for the Wolves, drilled a three-pointer in his last home appearance.
The crowd also got a glimpse of the future as eighth-grader Joey Bianco dialed long-distance and canned a three-point shot.
The win sets up a 7:15 p.m, showdown with Lakeview Christian Saturday, on the big floor of UMD’s Romano Gymnasium.
LCA bottled up Vanderbeek in a 67-51, Feb. 14 win over the Wolves. The Lions are 19-7 on the season.
The winner of the LCA/Ely clash moves on to the 7A semifinals, slated for March 13 at UMD, and a 7:15 p.m. contest against either Nashwauk-Keewatin or Cook County.
• The Wolves didn’t make a three-point basket in the Mar. 1 regular season finale, but it didn’t matter as their defense wreaked havoc with Wrenshall and won 72-49 on the road.