ELLIS — Confidence and leadership are two intangibles that can be the difference between a winning record and a losing record in high school basketball.
On Friday night in Ellis, confidence was key as the home Railers (8-6, 2-2 MCL) defeated a younger visiting Plainville Cardinals (7-6, 2-3) by a score of 59-47.
Ellis senior and leading scorer Brendon Brenner could only muster two free throws in the first half and 13 points on the night. Brenner’s point total was about half of his season average of 25 points.
“I would much rather score two points and win the game than score 25 points and lose the game,” Brenner said.
Plainville continuously double- teamed the 6-foot-5 Brenner in an attempt to limit his offensive output.
“They played very well on Brendon, double-teaming him inside,” said Ellis head coach Brandon Maska.
As Brenner was double-teamed, it opened up the Railers’ guards for open shots.
“I told our guys that if you are wide open, you are going to have to hit shots to get that double-team off,” Maska said. ”Unfortunately, we didn’t hit a whole lot. At times in the second half we started to get things going.”
Maska added, “I think we were more balanced with other guys chipping in throughout the game. That is a good sign. When Brendon is having an off night by our standards, then other guys are stepping up.”
The Ellis guards did step up as Easton Smith finished with 15 points and Clay Feik finished with a game-high 22 points.
“Easton had a good game against Victoria and it opened it up for me tonight,” Feik said.
Feik credited his output to just having more confidence on the offensive end of the court.
“He (Maska) told us just to come in with the mindset that we were going to win and to shoot,” Feik said. “We had confidence and knocked down some big shots.
“... Our offense the last two games has stepped up real good. We have confidence in our shots and confidence that we are going to win.”
Feik’s offensive outburst was all the more impressive considering he had to guard one of the fastest athletes in the entire Mid-Continent League in Plainville’s Hayden Friend.
“I just gave him a little more space than usual. He is quicker and faster than me,” Feik said. “I had a lot of help from Brendon, and some of the post players hedging off gave me some more time getting around the picks.”
As Brenner saw double-team after double-team, the Railers’ offense didn’t get off to the fastest start. It trailed 5-0 before scoring its first basket nearly halfway through the first quarter. Feik picked up his first points with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. Brenner then made a free throw before Feik scored another bucket to put Ellis ahead 9-6 after the first.
Both teams’ offense got on track in the second quarter as Smith scored seven points in the second quarter and Feik added another five to give the Railers a 29-20 lead going into halftime.
Ellis looked as if they were going to pull away in the opening minutes of the second half. The Railers opened up a 14-point lead, 34-20, with just 1 minute, 20 seconds coming off the clock in the third quarter. Friend answered with one of his two 3-pointers in the quarter to cut the lead to 11.
Plainville cut the lead to eight at one point in the second half, but the Cardinals could never string together more than two baskets to really make a run at the Railers.
“You feel like you are real close, real close to a big push and we could get rolling. Then Feik would hit a three or Easton Smith would pull up on the baseline and hit that,” said Plainville head coach Chris Drees. “You look to leadership in times like that and I don’t any seniors. Sometimes that leadership is lacking. I have individual players that have a lot of playing time on varsity, but our whole team doesn’t. It is just another learning step.”
As the lead appeared to be dwindling and it looked as if the Cardinals may mount a comeback, Maska had to find a way to focus his team.
“The lead got to 13 once and then it would get back down to eight. I used two timeouts when that happened to focus us on getting stops again and just let the offense come,” Maska said.
Ellis will take a two-game winning streak on the road as it plays one last non-league game against Quinter on Tuesday.
Plainville will also be on the road against Trego on Tuesday.
Ellis girls 54,
Two weeks ago, the Plainville Cardinals got their first victory of the season in a foul-plagued game against the Ellis Railers in the first round of the Mid-Continent League Tournament.
The Railers (4-7, 1-2) avenged that loss Friday night as they easily defeated the visiting Cardinals (2-12, 1-6) by a score of 54-36.
The Railers got off to a quick start as they won the opening tip and threw a long pass to Alexcia Deutscher for an easy layup just seconds into the game. Aspen Younger added six of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter as Ellis lead wire-to-wire and 17-8 after the first quarter.
“A lot of it has to do with the team. A lot of them were fast breaks. They were stealing it and passing it to me, and I have been shooting better the last couple games,” Younger said of the impressive first quarter.
Plainville managed to cut the lead to nine as Willow Hunt made two free throws just before halftime, as the Cardinals trailed 30-21 going to the locker room.
In the first meeting of the season, the Railers couldn’t keep their composure, as six Railers fouled out and Ellis finished with just four players on the floor at the end of the game. The Railers were determined not to allow that to happen again.
Ellis put the game out of reach and held Plainville to just two points in the third quarter. Cassie Waldschmidt had six points in the quarter and Younger added four more.
“The main idea as to be calmer on offense. We got in a big hurry last time and had a lot of poor possessions,” said Railers head coach Perry Mick. “I felt like we were a lot more under control tonight and took better shots.”
Younger added, “I thought we played a lot more calm. I think we wanted to prove ourselves and show them that were capable of playing better.”
In a sloppily-played fourth quarter, Plainville went just 5 for 13 at the charity stripe. The Railers had problems scoring themselves in the quarter, as they didn’t make their basket until Younger made a 3-pointer with just under four minutes remaining in the game. Younger finished with five of Ellis’ nine points in the final quarter.