Ely wins holiday tourney

Fast starts fuel Wolves in lopsided wins, tough matchups loom

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s holiday tournament opponents never really had a chance.
That’s what the Timberwolves did to back-to-back opponents in its home event last weekend, getting off to fast starts in back-to-back contests and rolling to a pair of lopsided wins and a first-place finish in the four-team high school boys basketball event.
Ely blew out Isle 84-44 in the opening round and jumped out to a 27-3 lead in the tournament final against Bigfork en route to a 74-48 romp.
The wins gave the Wolves - one of the early-season surprise teams in Section 7A - an 8-1 record for the winter.
At the Ely Hoops for Hope Tournament, the hosting Timberwolves used a strong 41-point first half to cruise to a 74-48 win over Bigfork Saturday.
In some respects, the home holiday tournament and some time off this week were the calm before the storm.
Tuesday’s home game against Class AA Greenway (5-2) opens a stretch that includes 10 games in 25 days, several against high-powered opponents.
The most notable may be Friday (Jan. 10) when Nashwauk-Keewatin comes to the high school gymnasium.
The Spartans (6-2) figure to be the top contender to end North Woods’ three-year reign atop the section, and they took the Grizzlies to overtime before losing a Dec. 10 contest.
But Ely also tested North Woods in a December defeat and the Wolves head into January with the best record in the section and ranked third in 7A, according to the QRF formula used to determine playoff seeding.
N-K downed Ely a year ago and Wolves Head Coach Tom McDonald is leery about the rematch - hailing the Spartans as a favorite in the section.
“Hopefully we can compete with their size,” said McDonald.
Size was a key difference in Ely’s only loss as North Woods center Trevor Morrison had 20 rebounds, and 26 points, in the Grizzlies’ 77-66 triumph over the Wolves.
Despite its relative lack of size, Ely has rebounded well and did a strong job of containing Bigfork’s 6-5 center - Liam Prato - during the holiday tournament.
The Wolves had a whopping 59 rebounds against Isle and seemed to get to every loose ball, especially during a 22-4 first-half run that put the game away.
“I thought we did work hard against Isle and took their athleticism away with our defense and hustle,” said McDonald. “We had good contributions from many players that night.”
Ely led 45-23 by halftime and the Huskies never threatened during the second half.
Five Ely players scored in double figures, with senior Dylan Fenskei scoring a game-high 22 points.
Senior Bryce Longwell had one of his best games of the year, scoring 12 points to go with a season-best 18 reboounds.
Eric Omerza added 14 points for the winners, followed by Emmett Faltesek (130 and Brock LaTourell (11), and Will Davies snared 10 rebounds.
Brandon Buehring had five three-pointers and 17 points overall to pace Isle, which rebounded Saturday to beat Cook County 87-78 for third palce.
In the finals, Ely had a 20-point lead before Bigfork could ever get on track.
It was 41-15 by halftime and the contest was essentially over.
Fenske again led all scorers with 25 points, with Omerza right behind with 23.
LaTourell notched 10 points while Longwell was credited with helping to contain Prato who scored most of his 14 points after the outcome was decided. Faltesek netted eight points.
After the home game with Nashwauk-Keewatin, the Wolves are on the road for three in a row (Jan. 11, at Cook County; Jan. 14, at Bigfork; Jan. 17 at Mt. Iron-Buhl) before returning home for a Jan. 18 date against Class AA Duluth Marshall, which won four of its first six games.