Wolves cruise into the quarters
by Tom Coombe
The Ely Timberwolves left no doubt.
Living up to its high seed, the Wolves raced out of the gate against Hill City and never looked back - scoring 57 first-half points in an 84-46 Section 7A high school boys basketball playoff victory on Wednesday night.
The home was was Ely’s 22nd of the season - against just five defeats - and set up a 7A quarterfinal game with Mt. Iron-Buhl at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Hibbing’s Memorial Building.
Ely has defeated the sixth-seeded Rangers by double digits on two occasions this season, and a third win would set up a semifinal showdown, most likely with three-time defending 7A titleist North Woods - on March 11.
In reaching the quarterfinal round, the Wolves had little resistance from a Hill City team they pounded in similar fashion early in the year.
Four Wolves scored in double figures, with senior Dylan Fenske adding to his 1,000-point-plus total with 18 in his final game on the home floor.
Ely created turnovers and established the tempo it wanted early on, getting out to a 38-14 lead before the Hornets knew was hit them. A 19-3 run closed out the opening half and the rout was on.
“We jumped out early and put it away by halftime,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald.
McDonald said the second half was “ugly” but it didn’t matter - as the final nine minutes were played in running time and the Wolves looked ahead to another bid in the quarterfinals.
Senior Eric Omerza distributed the ball as the quarterback of Ely’s offense and wound up with 16 points himself and freshman guard Joey Bianco continued a late-season surge with 16 points and five assists. Junior Will Davies added 14 points and classmate Emmett Faltesek dished out five assists.
The Wolves own two decisive wins over MIB, including an 80-58 home triumph three weeks ago, but McDonald is wary of the Rangers and one of the area’s most prolific scorers - freshman guard Asher Zubich. Zubich torched Mesabi East for over 60 points in a win earlier this season.
“We are going to have to contain MIB’s shooters if we want to advance,” said McDonald. “ Zubich is a hard guy to contain but I think we need to do the job on the other guys and not let them get too many easy baskets. We will need to take care of the ball and attack the basket on offense. I don’t think we can make it strictly a three-point contest against them.”
• After a slow start, the Wolves downed Wrenshall 83-61 in the Feb, 28 regular season finale.
Ely led just 37-31 at halftime against the Wrens but found its range in the second half, with Fenske netting 17 points and sophomore guard Harry Simons coming off the bench to notch a season-best 14.
Omerza had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds and Davies nearly matched him, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds.
• In Saturday’s quarterfinals - top-seed Nashwauk-Keewatin tangles with Cherry at 11 a.m., with Deer River and Fond du Lac meeting in the 12:30 p.m. tilt. The late-afternoon session starts with North Woods against Carlton, while Ely and MIB close the day.
Semifinal games are set for Mar. 11 at 5:45 and 7:15 p.m. in Hibbing, and the title game is Mar. 13, also at Hibbing.