EJ Ziegler is branching out.
At 6-foot-4, the Pillager Huskies senior is one of the taller Class 1A players in the area.
Because of that, he’s owned the paint against opposing teams.
But the post player is broadening his attack of the basket. He’s added a 15-foot jump shot to his arsenal. He’s also helping get his teammates involved. The result is a 12-7 record for Pillager.
“He gets a lot of his points with power drop steps and his post moves, but he’s really developed in the last four weeks his midrange game,” said Pillager head coach Erik Uselman. “They’ll sink a double team on him so we’ll give him the ball in the high post instead of fighting through the double and trying to finish at the rim. He’s taking that 12-to-15 footer and he’s been pretty accurate with it.”
In Pillager’s first 19 games, Ziegler has scored 385 points for a 20.3 per-game average. He’s added 272 rebounds (14.3), 56 blocks, 43 assists and 31 steals. He’s shooting 53 percent from the field, 60 percent from the line.
Ziegler knew, with the graduation of Cole Hunstad, he had to improve his game.
“We lost a lot when Cole graduated last year,” he said. “I knew I needed to pick up where he left off. He was a 1,000-point scorer on our team. I needed to improve and being a senior I had to be a leader.
“I still need to work on my jump shooting. I don’t take that many. I just haven’t been that kind of player before. But I have been scoring more in our half-court offense. I feel like I’ve gotten better in the post.”
Ziegler needed just 15 points to lead the Huskies to a 62-52 Park Region Conference victory over Sebeka Feb. 5.
In a 63-61 loss to Menahga Feb. 8, Ziegler scored 22.
The Huskies bounced back with a 56-51 victory over Pequot Lakes Feb. 12. Ziegler posted 22 points and 14 rebounds.
“The team has started to rally around EJ,” Uselman said. “Just the fact that he is consistently steady on both ends of the court — that’s been so huge for us. Many times in tight games we’ve called timeout and told the kids it’s time to get the ball to EJ.
“He’s pretty easy to find and hard to stop. But then he takes it down to the other end. He’ll score and then go down and make a block or collect one of his many rebounds. He’s been huge for us.”
Ziegler was big last year, too. In 28 games, he scored 455 points (16.3) to go with 288 rebounds (10.3) and 88 blocked shots (3.1) He led Pillager in all three of those categories and added 68 assists and 26 steals. He shot 54 percent from the field.
“I kind of expected myself to do what I’m doing with averaging a double-double,” Ziegler said. “As a team, we were coming off a strong summer. We wanted to win the conference, but we fell a little bit short on that. We had a setback when we lost to New York Mills earlier in the season and then losing on a buzzer-beater last week to Menahga.
“Our other goal was to beat Browerville and that didn’t happen. We haven’t been hitting our team goals, but we still have the playoffs.”
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Jordan Redmond, Pequot Lakes, scored 27 points against Staples-Motley and 24 against Roseau.
Daniel Hudrlik, Crosby-Ironton, finished with 20 points and six rebounds against International Falls.
Collin Eckman, Little Falls, scored 24 points against Milaca and 20 against Foley.
Mitch Bednar, Pierz, finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds against Maple Lake.
Dallas Ehrmantraut, Verndale, finished with 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against New York Mills.
Beau Howard, Pine River-Backus, finished with 20 points, seven assists and four steals against Northome-Kelliher.
Hockey: Mitchell Swanson, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with two goals and two assists against Red Lake Falls.
Ben Moe, Northern Lakes, finished with three goals and an assist against Wadena-Deer Creek.
Spencer Fenske, Little Falls, finished with two goals and three assists against Mora.
Wrestling: Brandon Ortman, Brandon Sullivan, Evan Woitalla, Brad Meyer, Josh Lanners and Travis Johnson, Pierz, all finished 4-0 last week.
Jerod Novak, Issac Novak and Alan Bast, Aitkin, won Great River Conference titles.
Anthony Philipson, Nick Gravdahl and Drey Loge, Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus, won individual titles at the Morris Invite.
Cole Grinsteinner, Crosby-Ironton, won the 285-pound title at the Parkers Prairie invite.