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Ellis girls outlast Oakley to kick off MCL tourney

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- The Ellis High School girls' basketball team held a six-point lead with 3 minutes, 43 seconds against Oakley on Monday night. Then, the Railers missed two straight shots and three consecutive free throws. Ellis didn't score again until a foul shot by sophomore Alexcia Deutscher with one second left in the contest.

Oakley closed the gap to two points and had multiple chances to tie or take the lead. But senior Kenzie Hemmert missed two free throws, and Hemmert made a bad perimeter pass that went out of bounds with 27.3 seconds left. In the final seconds, Oakley turned the ball over again and never got a shot off.

Ellis held on for a 49-46 victory in the first round of the Mid-Continent League tournament. As the final buzzer sounded, Deutscher let out of a deep breath near the Railroader bench.

"Relieved," she said.

Ellis, the defending MCL tournament champion, improved to 6-3 and moved into Friday's semifinals at Gross Memorial Coliseum against second-seeded Smith Center. The No. 3 seeded Railers are 3-1 in MCL tournament championship games in the last eight seasons. Oakley, the sixth seed, dropped to 4-3 and into the consolation semifinals.

"I really want to do it again, and I think the girls want to," Ellis coach Perry Mick said. "Hopefully we can step up and make a good showing."

The contest produced a matchup between arguably two of northwest Kansas' -- and Class 2A's -- top five players in Deutscher and Oakley senior Laura Dennis. Deutscher, held to a couple single figure games as Ellis went 1-2 in its previous three contests, bounced back with 14 points and nine rebounds, both team-highs.

She also delivered four assists, all in the second half, and three steals. On one possession late, Oakley had a wide-open 3, but Deutscher played terrific defense, Oakley coach Randall Rath said.

"Did a great job," Rath said. "Got out in the passing lane and made it a difficult pass."

The Railers trailed 29-26 early in the third quarter, but Deutscher helped in a 10-2 run that gave Ellis a 36-31 lead. Oakley briefly tied the game at 40, but the Railers never trailed again.

"She is very competitive and I think sometimes when she sees that we need her, she plays super hard and super fast," Mick said. "She probably was a little disappointed in maybe her last couple of efforts."

Ellis ran a triangle-and-two junk defense on Dennis and junior point guard Marlee Rath versus a Plainsmen team that received all but one of their points from four players and has little depth.

"Not quite ready for varsity basketball," Rath said. "They are getting thrown at the wolves. I thought that they are improving. As they are improving, we ought to hopefully keep getting better here. But I thought we played well."

In the first half, Dennis didn't take a shot until 3 minutes, 37 seconds remained before intermission. Dennis, who is being recruited by multiple Kansas junior colleges, still finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Marlee Rath and Hemmert each collected 11 points.

"(Dennis) is a good athlete with good savvy," Coach Rath said.

Oakley led 12-9 after the first quarter and 25-24 at halftime. The Railers hit four treys against the triangle-and-two, and forced Ellis to change its defense in the second half. Many times, Deutscher guarded Dennis.

"It's just a great matchup for me, because I have to play better defense and not be lazy," Deutscher said. "I like to make her moves slower, like not let her drive to the basket each time. It kind of affects them a lot, because they can't pass it in to her, because I have people down low on the backside helping me, too."

In the final game before holiday break, Ellis suffered a 52-27 loss at Osborne. Junior Stephanie Greenway and senior Sidney Gottschalk each suffered concussions. Mick said Greenway is healthy, but that Gottschalk is "still trying to recover a little bit," and is "a bit out of sorts."

"You have to be so careful about those head injuries," Mick said.

Greenway finished with eight points, including two treys in the third quarter run. Before this winter, four-year starting point guard Bailey Hensley scored often on fast breaks and layups. Now, Greenway is working into that role. Deutscher and Greenway have stayed after practice to work on the fast break plays and passes.

"She doesn't know how to do that as well as Bailey did last year, but it just takes a lot of time and practice," Deutscher said.

Deutscher assisted on two of Greenway's field goals, including a fast break basket off a defensive rebound that gave Ellis a 44-40 lead midway through the final quarter. Ellis scored just five points the rest of the game, but managed to hold on.

"I wish we had played that ending a little better," Mick said. "We simply did not make free throws. ... We feel fortunate to have gotten a win out of this."