Wolves take to the road

South Ridge, Remer potential 7A playoff destinations for Ely boys on Thursday; Bianco goes over 1,000-point mark for his career

by Tom Coombe
Pick your poison.
For the Ely Timberwolves, that may indeed be appropriate as they head into the opening round of the Section 7A boys basketball tournament on Thursday night.
After back-to-back defeats to section rivals South Ridge and Mt. Iron-Buhl, the Wolves (14-11) will almost certainly be seeded 10th when the postseason begins this week.
That means a road trip to the home of the number-seven seed, and as of deadline that appeared to be either Northland (Remer) or South Ridge, who were set to meet in a regular season clash that was likely to decide the seventh seed in what appears to be a very deep 7A field.
South Ridge, which downed Ely 64-45 last Friday, pairs 6-10 center Austin Josephson with 6-9 Slayton Stroschein, while Northland is a talented unit that owns a victory over Chisholm and was 19-6 going into its regular season finale.
For differing reasons, either foe looms as quite an obstacle as a small but pesky Ely team looks to pull a first-round upset.
“I think any of our first round opponents pose problems for us,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald. “I think the size of South Ridge is something that we just won’t handle very well as we just don’t have enough big bodies to battle them and when we did OK with their size inside they shot the ball well from the perimeter. They are just not a great match up for us....Northland Remer is not super big, but they do have some really good perimeter players who can shoot and handle the ball. They have had a good season and have competed well against the teams above them.”
McDonald said that while the Wolves may match up better with Northland.
“They have numerous people to guard on the outside and I don’t know how effective our zones will be against that. No matter who we match up with we will have to shoot the ball well from the outside. I think our success this year has been driven by a combination of good shooting and solid defense.”
A victory on Thursday would send the Wolves into the Mar. 12 quarterfinal round at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and an even more difficult opponent.
Heading into the final round of regular season contests, defending champion Deer River, upstart Cherry and perennial power North Woods were in a three-way battle for the top three seeds, with a Deer River/Northwoods clash on Friday night figuring to add some clarity. All three teams own decisive wins over Ely this winter.
The Wolves will go into the postseason battle-tested after a grueling late-season stretch.
It included the Feb. 25 matchup at South Ridge, where Josephson led a balanced Panther attack.
Ely’s Joey Bianco hit a milestone in the game, sinking a free throw to collect his 1,000th career point in his high school basketball career.
The game was stopped briefly so Bianco could present the game ball to his older sister Amy, who filled in for her parents Joe and Mary, absent to watch a third Bianco sibling - Erin - compete in a collegiate ski meet.
Bianco and the Wolves found the inside tough to handle due to South Ridge’s size, and the Panthers’ man-to-man defense limited open shot opportunities.
Josephson (18 points), and Stroschein (16) both hit double digits, while Jaxson Bennett drained five three-pointers on the way to 17 points for the winners.
The weekend confrontation with MIB, a rare Saturday night game at the high school gymnasium, was an entertaining affair but the Wolves fell short 78-70 despite a 30-point night by Bianco.
Ely was down 34-20 late in the first half but scored 10 straight points to close the gap to four by halftime.
The Wolves carried that momentum into the second half, with senior Harry Simons warming up from beyond the three-point arc.
Ely grabbed a narrow lead early in the half but MIB countered. Junior Asher Zubich converted a three-point play to become the Rangers’ all-time leading scorer with more than 2,700 points.