TYLER - On most nights, a performance like that of senior Brett Peterson would have been good enough to win.
Unfortunately for Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Ellsworth had a senior of their own who proved he could go toe-to-toe.
Despite 36 points and a near triple-double from Peterson, Mitch Leuthold scored 33 points, including nine 3-pointers, to help spoil the Knights' season opener 72-68 Monday night.
"The kids really battled, particularly to close out the first half, and definitely in the second half," said RTR head coach Ted Kern. "They battled hard, top to bottom. We just didn't do a very good job of closing out or sticking with (Leuthold), particularly down the stretch."
Down 38-30 into halftime, the Knights opened the second half on a 19-5 run to a six-point advantage behind Peterson, who showed coaches around the state why he deserves scholarship recognition, adding 13 rebounds and seven assists to an impressive line.
"It's not a thing where you can really stop him," said Ellsworth head coach JD Roberts. "You definitely can't guard somebody like that for 36 minutes. (RTR) picked up the defense and really pressured us into some turnovers (in the second half)."
For every punch Peterson threw; however, Leuthold seemed to have an answer. The senior hit a barrage of three pointers within minutes - accounting for every one of his team's 15 points during that stretch - to propel Ellsworth back into the lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
"Thank God for Mitch tonight," said Roberts. "If he didn't shoot the ball very well in the second half, we wouldn't have came out with the 'W.'
Down just one late in regulation, RTR committed a critical turnover, before one last gasped attempt to tie the game by junior Jesse Jasper drew iron, sealing the Knight's fate. Although they came up short, Kern found positives in his team's first showing of the season.
"First game of the season for everybody and really the first extended minutes of the careers for quite a few kids," he said. "There were some jitters to be expected. I thought we fought through those pretty well and showed pretty well for ourselves in the second half."
And while having a star player like Peterson is a great security blanket, Kern knows other players will need to step up moving forward.
"We did have other guys with opportunities (Monday)," he said. "It would be nice to see them cash those in a little more consistently and hopefully with some experience as the season goes that will come along."
ELLSWORTH 72, RUSSELL-TYLER-RUTHTON 68
ELLSWORTH (4-0 OVERALL): Cole Meester 1 0-0 3, Tim Nolte 0 2-2 2, Johnathon Kramer 2 3-4 7, Mitchell Leuthold 11 2-2 33, Drew Cheskie 6 3-5 15, Justin Kruse 6 0-0 12. Totals: 26 10-13 (77%) 72.
RUSSELL-TYLER-RUTHTON (0-1 OVERALL): Brett Knudsen 5 0-0 11, Brett Peterson 15 4-7 36, Hunter Burns 1 0-0 3, Frankie Gecevic 1 0-0 2, Brett Vercruysse 5 6-7 16. Totals: 27 10-14 (71%) 68.
HALFTIME: Ellsworth 38, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 30. 3-POINT FIELD GOALS: Ellsworth 10 (Leuthold 9, Meester 1), Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 4 (Peterson 2, Knudsen 1, Burns 1). REBOUNDS: Ellsworth 28 (Cheskie 10); Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 31 (Peterson 13, Vercruysse 9). FOULED OUT: None. TECHNICAL FOULS: None. ASSISTS: Ellsworth 13 (Kramer 5, Meester 5); Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 13 (Peterson 7). STEALS: Ellsworth 0; Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 8 (Gecevic 3). BLOCKED SHOTS: Ellsworth 0; Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 1 (Peterson 1). TURNOVERS: Ellsworth 13; Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 15.