As Bishop Gorman bids goodbye to Oregon-bound Darriel Gaynor, coach Sheryl Krmpotich can breathe easy.
Her Gaels girls basketball team will be safely in the hands of Aaryn Ellenberg.
The sophomore guard had 20 points Friday night in leading top-ranked Gorman to a 70-46 home win over No. 4 Durango in a battle for first place in the Southwest Division.
With Gaynor feeling less than 100 percent — she just called it an “off night” — Ellenberg picked up the slack, displaying a basketball IQ far beyond her years.
Locked in a close game, Ellenberg nailed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, putting Gorman
(16-4, 6-0 Southwest) up 31-30. Rather than milk the clock, Ellenberg found herself open and shot.
“It was a momentum-swinger,” Krmpotich said. “We hadn’t found our groove in the first half. It made us much more confident going into the half.”
That swagger stayed with the Gaels — and with Ellenberg.
In a four-minute stretch in the third quarter, Ellenberg had 10 points as Gorman stretched the one-point halftime lead to 57-35 entering the last quarter.
“I know I’m going to have to step up next year, but I might as well start now,” Ellenberg said. “Coach told me I had to be a leader because it’s basically going to be my team next year as the point guard.”
Added Gaynor, who has thrived as her young teammate’s mentor: “It’s not just one night she’s stepping up. It’s every night. She’s a primary scorer on our team, so it’s my job to get her the ball.”
But it wasn’t all Ellenberg.
Texas-bound Ashley Gayle owned the paint against the overmatched Trailblazers
(20-3, 5-1) on both ends, with 16 points — 11 in the third quarter — and nine blocks.
“In the third quarter, we did a little bit more of what we wanted from the beginning,” Krmpotich said. “We went away from the inside-out game early — that’s where we’re effective. First half, we were stressing and pressing too much.”
Understandable, given Lindy La Rocque’s hot hand.
The Durango senior had 10 of her game-high 24 points in the first quarter, but Ellenberg played her tight the rest of the game.
“Our plan was to tire her out,” Krmpotich said. “She’s in pretty much 32 minutes. She’s a great offensive player, so we figured if we got her a little bit more tired, it’d benefit us.”
Contact reporter Jon Gold at jgold@ reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-4587.