By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS - Ellis High School boys' basketball coach Chris Rorabaugh wasn't pleased after a 73-64 home loss to Ness City last Tuesday.
It marked the end of a frustrating December for Rorabaugh in many aspects, including his team's overall intensity, limited contributions from senior forward Thatcher Brown and the Railers' schedule.
"There are a lot of things that we need to work on," Rorabaugh said. "We have a little practice time coming up, that's for sure."
Ellis, a 13-9 team last season, was widely considered a squad that could contend for a Class 2A
state berth this season. However, the Railers have struggled against their strongest competition. While Ellis has blowout wins against Rexford-Golden Plains, Atwood-Rawlins County, Palco and Osborne, the Railers lost 70-61 to Phillipsburg, 55-53 to Dighton and by nine to Ness City.
Against Ness City, Ellis led by 11 early in the third quarter, but Eagle senior guard Garrett Flax hit five treys to give Ness City the lead.
"I really hadn't looked at the tape, and I don't think I am going to," Rorabaugh said. "What did he make, five out of five in the second half? That's pretty good. That's pretty hard to do with nobody guarding you, which probably was the case."
Phillipsburg, Dighton and Ness City remain unbeaten. Phillipsburg is raked No. 9 in Class 3A, Dighton is No. 2 in Class 1A, Division II and Ness City is No. 3 in Class 2A.
Ellis already has allowed at least 70 points twice. The Railers never allowed 70 points last year and gave up 70 or more just twice in an eight-win season in 2010-11.
"We are not very tough," Rorabaugh said.
Brown, an all-Mid-Continent League honorable mention selection last season, averaged 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks a contest as a junior. He has struggled this winter, including five points on 2-of-8 shooting and 1 of 4 from the free throw line last Tuesday.
Brown grabbed just four rebounds, none in the fourth quarter when the game remained close.
"He has got to make up his mind if he wants to play or not, because he didn't do anything," Rorabaugh said. "Very disappointed in him."
Rorabaugh, a veteran of more than 35 years on the sideline, is trying to lead Ellis to the state tournament for the first time since he took the Railers in 2003. Ellis has not posted back-to-back winning seasons since Rorabaugh led the program to nine straight winning records that ended in 2003. Rorabaugh left Ellis in 2006 before he returned this winter.
Last year, Ellis played six games before holiday break. This season, the Railers played seven, on the high end for area squads.
"Seven games in December is just a little too much," Rorabaugh said. "I wasn't looking forward to that. I knew that would be a problem. Not much time to correct anything, and can't hardly change the lineup when you play seven games in three weeks."
Ness City continues run
Ness City is enjoying a dominant stretch in virtually all sports, especially on the boys' side in cross country, football, basketball and track. This fall, the Eagles rolled to a 13-0 record and an Eight-Man Division I state championship.
Third-year basketball coach Matt Overlease is an assistant coach in football. Overlease, 48-7 in his career with the Eagles, has led Ness City to back-to-back state appearances.
"It's no secret that there's been some good athletes coming through," Overlease said. "Can't forget about the cross country and the football. But it's exciting to be part of it."
After football ended this year, he hosted an optional practice the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Overlease expected at least a few players to sit another day and allow their bodies to heal through Thanksgiving. However, that didn't happen.
"Everyone came in and practiced and they practiced their tails off," Overlease said. "That's just the group of guys that these guys are; a special group."
Ness City has started 7-0 and has won 15 straight regular season/sub-state contests dating back to a 41-38 loss to La Crosse on Feb. 3, 2012.
This season, the Eagles have played the last two games without senior Colin Foos (ankle), and senior guard Matthew Frank (illness) missed the game against Ellis. Still, backed by Flax, senior Dalton Gantz and senior Wyatt Beckman, Ness City delivered the win.
"We have been playing together for years, probably six or seven years," Flax said. "Coach O does a great job of pushing us in practice, pushing us to be our best, and we just enjoy playing with each other."
It's uncertain how much time Foos will miss. Overlease believes Foos should come back in early to mid-January. Beckman, an all-state cross country runner, moved into the starting lineup in Foos' place. He provided eight points and a team-high 12 rebounds against Ellis.
"He stepped up the last two games and played tremendous defense," Overlease said. "Been outsized both times, but have done a good job on them. He is just a hustler. Several offensive, big rebounds just to keep us in the game."