“It’s hard as hell to get here and you don’t forget that,” he said. “So we’re grateful for the opportunity, and I’m glad I get to practice with these guys for another week. That’s the best part.”
The Elks returned the core of last year’s team led by 6-foot-7 seniors Tom House and Rich Rolf and junior point guard Gabe Cupps. They played the toughest schedule in the state to prepare for this week.
“I’m definitely proud of my team,” Rolf said. “I’m definitely proud of how far we’ve come, but we still have a job to do.”
After the Fairmont game, Brook Cupps gave a lot of credit to the Firebirds for making it difficult on the Elks. And he knew his team needed a confidence boost. So after watching film of the Fairmont game, he showed them a playlist of highlights from the season he titled “This is Us.”
“That’s something we really needed,” House said. “And that shows growth in him too, because that was a big thing. I feel like last round that Fairmont took us out of our confidence. And we felt better today.”
Cupps said, “Mentally it reminds you and gets you in the right frame of mind of what we’re capable of. I think that positive inner voice is a big deal.”
Rolf led the Elks with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while House scored 12 and Cupps had 11 and four assists. And it was Rolf’s two 3-pointers for a 6-3 lead that set the tone for a night when they would shoot a more customary 48.7%, make 7 of 16 3-pointers and lead 16-7 after the first quarter.
“It definitely helped our confidence,” House said. “The rest of our team ended up playing better because of just of how we approached the start of the game. It was good to see the first couple of shots go down for sure.”
The crowd that filled the bottom half of the Cintas Center and leaked into the upper deck was immediately into the game. But the Elks weren’t the only energized team. Fairfield (23-5) rallied with an 8-0 run to tie the score at 20.
But the Elks took the momentum back on two 3-point plays by Rolf to lead 26-20 at halftime. The second came with 1.1 seconds left when Gabe Cupps lobbed a pass on in inbounds play from the baseline in front of the basket and Rolf tipped it in at the buzzer, was fouled and made the free throw.
“Coach Cupps drew that up just now,” Rolf said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that play. I thought it was going to work but I didn’t know if it would work the first time.”
The Elks led 39-29 after three and built the lead to 45-29 with an 11-0 run to start the fourth. The Indians rallied to 45-37 with 2:54 left, but the Elks finished with an 8-2 run.
“Our guys came in and played with a freedom and just played ball,” Brook Cupps said. “It was fun to see the joy they play with.”