Ellis tops Hill City
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- Last Friday, the Ellis High School girls' basketball team defeated Hill City by 29, the Railroaders biggest victory against the Ringnecks since Jan. 12, 2007.
On Tuesday, the squads met up again in the first round of the Mid-Continent League tournament in Ellis. The second-seeded Railers took a 15-point lead after the first quarter and led by 22 at halftime against No. 7 seed Hill City.
However, the Ringnecks, paced by their 3-point shooting, closed to within six points early in the fourth quarter. Ellis eventually delivered a 53-43 victory and moved into the semifinals this weekend at Fort Hays State University's Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"One thing that you take from it is that it's not over until it's over," Ellis coach Perry Mick said. "We knew we beat them bad the other night. Started off really, really well tonight and I think we just relaxed and they started hitting shots, and we got real, real complacent, and they made it a good game."
Ellis, ranked No. 7 in Class 2A, improved to 10-1 and won its seventh straight contest. The Railers advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2010, when they finished league runner-up.
"Every time I think about it, it gives me butterflies," junior Kaleigh Soneson said.
It is the best start in Mick's tenure, a stretch that includes 141 wins, two state appearances and a state runner-up finish. Hill City dropped to 3-5 and has lost four in a row.
"Sometimes, I don't know if that's a good thing," Mick said of the start. "The pressure starts to build a little bit and you always think that all you have to do is show up. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
Ellis received another strong game from freshman Alexcia Deutscher, one of the area's top players. She hit her first four shots and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, both team-highs, and recorded four steals. Ellis led 18-3 after the first quarter. Senior guard Bailey Hensley collected four points, four assists and three steals in the quarter. Ellis ran its traditional fast break effectively and forced seven turnovers. At halftime, the Railers led 38-14.
Then, Hill City, long known for its 3-point shooting, quickly came back after halftime.
"It was five quarters until we decided, 'OK, we've got to go,' " Hill City coach Linda Nighswonger said. "I am glad we finally decided that now. It sure took us a while."
Senior point guard Shelby Stewart hit five treys and finished with a team-best 15 points.
Three of the treys came in the third quarter as Hill City opened the half on a 10-0 run and trailed just 42-34 after the quarter against the Railers' zone. Ellis had four third-quarter points, both Deutscher baskets when she collected a steal. But Deutscher didn't score again in the game after the 2:30 mark of the third quarter. Nighswonger said Hill City tried to hedge harder when Deutscher drove to the basket, and believed Deutscher might have gotten tired down the stretch.
"Like last time, our hope was, we get enough steals on the press that maybe the shooters wouldn't have that many chances and that's the way it worked out in the game on Friday night and the way it worked out in the first half," Mick said. "Then, in the second half, they did a much better job of getting those girls open and taking their time."
Soneson stepped up down the stretch. She and Hensley have played significantly since their freshmen years. While Hensley has earned all-league honors in basketball and volleyball and is an all-state softball player, Soneson also has performed at a high level in three sports, too. This year, she has led Ellis in scoring a few times, including a 19-point contest.
"Kaleigh does a great job for us," Mick said. "She is a good player. She probably doesn't get noticed as much as she should."
Soneson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, including five points in the fourth quarter. She sunk three free throws in the first three and a half minutes to give Ellis separation.
"My role is stepping up and really rebounding and getting those inside shots," Soneson said. "He told someone to step up, so I kind of felt like I needed to."