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Sans star, Ness City tops Ellis

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- The Ness City High School boys' basketball team gathered together after a second consecutive first-round Class 2A state tournament loss last March. The juniors made a promise to never lose another football or basketball game in their high school careers.

More than nine months later, the Eagles have met that goal. In the fall, Ness City went 13-0 and won the Eight-Man Division II state championship. This winter, the Eagles, down 10 points early in the second half, finished with a 73-64 win against Ellis on Tuesday night. Ness City, ranked No. 3 in Class 2A, improved to 7-0.

"They are just all together competitors," Ness City coach Matt Overlease said.

The Eagles played without senior Colin Foos, one of the area's better players, and senior guard Matthew Frank. Foos has missed two games, and might miss more time after the holiday break because of an ankle injury, while Frank was ill.

Still, senior guard Garrett Flax stepped up with a game-high 22 points, all after intermission. He hit 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Four of those treys came in less than two minutes late in the third quarter. The third trey gave Ness City a 45-44 lead. Flax punctuated the play with a short sprint down the court and some fist pumps.

The fourth one elicited a similar reaction from Flax and Overlease. Senior Dalton Gantz finished with 17 points as the Eagles made 10 3s.

"He is such an emotional competitor," Overlease said of Flax. "You can see that when he makes a shot, he is jacked and the kids feed off of him, but he is so unselfish. When he is not hitting shots, he is going to find a way to get his teammates involved."

Ellis dropped to 4-3 and has allowed at least 70 points twice this season and more than 50 points in four games. Seniors Blake Hudson and Tyler Walters paced the Railers with 12 points apiece.

"We just have to learn to play harder," Ellis coach Chris Rorabaugh said. "We are not playing very hard. We are not physical at all."

For Flax, he ran his winning streak to 27 straight football/basketball games in contests when he has been healthy. In 2011, Ness City started 7-0 in football, but Flax suffered a severe injury in Week 8 against Montezuma-South Gray and missed the rest of the fall and all of basketball. In the summer, he rejoined the basketball team, but had some trouble early on.

"It was tough at first," Flax said. "I had some problems playing defense and cutting."

In basketball, Ness City graduated Drew Clarke, the Hays Daily News Player of the Year last winter. The Eagles weren't a perimeter-oriented team through the first six contests. Overlease estimated the team was shooting 10 to 13 treys a game. Last year, Ness City was shooting around 20 to 23 a contest.

"A lot of that had to do with confidence," Overlease said. "We just weren't hitting shots. We just weren't shooting period. We were timid to shoot the ball. Tonight, some started falling."

In the first half, Flax never scored and Ness City trailed 31-27 at intermission. Overlease told Flax to keep shooting. Ellis led 41-31 with 5 minutes, 24 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Eagles finished the quarter on a 20-8 run. Flax hit his first 3 at the 3:39 mark to pull Ness City to within two. The next one came 43 seconds later.

"I was just feeling it and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball," Flax said. "I was open, and I was just fortunate enough to knock them down.

With 2:29 remaining, Flax scored again off a pass from sophomore Pedro Flores. The last one came at the 1:48 mark, gave Ness City a 48-44 lead, forced an Ellis timeout and elicited big responses from the Eagles.

"I think I get just as emotional or competitive as they are," Overlease said. "I was just excited more than anything to get his shot back going."

In the fourth quarter, Ellis tied the game at 51, but Flax sunk his final trey with 5:25 left and gave Ness City the lead for good.

"Are you going to hit 3s every night?" Overlease said. "Probably not. But he is capable of shooting the ball and now he knows it and he is going to play with a little bit more confidence."