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Music to their ears: Rebels boys rally over Cards

Cromwell-Wright senior Tyler Randall (22) tries to cut through ML-WR defenders Isaac Riihilouma (24) and Ryder Anderson (23) on a drive to the basket. Dan Saletel/news@pinejournal.com1 / 6
Moose Lake-Willow River senior Jed Gill goes up for two points against the Cromwell-Wright Cardinals Friday night. The Rebels defeated the Cardinals 53-48. Dan Saletel/news@pinejournal.com2 / 6
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CROMWELL—With just four victories in 16 games, the Moose Lake-Willow River boys basketball team hasn’t had the most successful of seasons so far this winter.

But despite the defeats, Jerry Gill has been there cheering all the way. Win or lose, the middle-aged man is a reliable Rebel fan. Most nights, he’s the loudest one in the gym.

Such was the scene Friday night when Gill hooted and hollered support, and even broke into a solo prior to ML-WR’s 53-48 comeback Polar League road victory over Cromwell-Wright before a sizeable Cardinal crowd last week.

Trailing 42-39 with 7:35 to play, Rebels coach Neil Dickenson took a timeout to reorganize things, but one couldn’t help but notice Gill — just a couple rows back and to their left — who stand up and started singing to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” made famous by The Tokens back in 1961.

Gill’s high-pitched tone, humming and one-man band brought plenty of smiles to the entire bleachers — many of whom applauded him after — but most of all, it loosened up his favorite Rebels. In less than a minute, senior Rex Janke nailed a right-wing 3-pointer to tie the game, before classmate Ryder Anderson’s ensuing steal-and-score then put them up 44-42.

ML-WR would never trail again.

Victories have been few and far between for a young but improving Rebels group. Throw in the fact that they trailed 8-0 following the game’s first three possessions and 29-24 at halftime after Cardinal junior Zion Smith’s buzzer-beating 20-footer ignited the crowd, and last week’s win was a delight.

“It was a great team win together, we all kind of clicked,” said Janke, a smooth-shooting 6-foot-3 captain who had a game-leading 17 points last week — many of which came at the most-crucial of moments in the contest.

“Our offense was patient, our defense communicated and we shared the ball, were unselfish and slowed the pace down. We had a good close, too,” continued Janke, smiling. “The locker room was pretty hyped — a lot of yelling.”

“Within the last few weeks, we’ve really found our fire,” said junior Isaac Riihiluoma, who added eight points in their five-point victory. “We’re starting to believe in ourselves.”

One who has always believed has been Gill. A pastor at West Side Church in Kettle River, Gill is a passionate Rebel supporter. His son, Jed, is a senior on the team in his first season since returning from schools in Texas and Nebraska. Living now with his family in Sturgeon Lake, Jerry hasn’t missed a game since ML-WR’s opener when he was in Mexico. But after then, he’s been at them all.

The elder Gill ended his version of The Tokens’ song by yelling “I believe guys!”  and the Rebels then went on a game-ending 14-6 run.

Cromwell-Wright coach Bill Pocernich said his team turned it over too much, didn’t play very smart down the stretch and simply didn’t get things together in the second, but credited ML-WR for their troubles. He noted the atmosphere was entertaining, although his 9-5 gang let this one slip away.

“I thought it was a good high school game,” said Pocernich, whose Cardinals were paced by senior Tyler Randall’s 17 points, 12 from classmate Carter Karppinen and eight each via Smith and Pocernich’s freshman son, Marcus. “Some nights you make the plays and some nights the other team makes the plays. Tonight, Moose Lake made more. I thought our kids battled, but Moose Lake just played better.”

Perhaps that’s because of their secret — or rather not-so-secret weapon in the stands — who never quits believing.

“He’s a great man. He’s my dad and I love him,” Jed said.

“We love it,” Riihiluoma said of Gill. “We feed off of it.”

An upbeat Dickenson agreed.

“And I’ve heard [Jerry] every game,” he said. “He lifts everyone up. I like it. I really do.”

KEYNOTES BY KORBY:

When asked to rate of Jerry Gill’s singing afterward, Rebels players had this to say:

“9½,” laughed Janke. “He could hit the high notes better.”

“A 9,” Riihiluoma added. “He was a little pitchy in spots.”

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