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Pressure has always brought out the best in Eli Gingerich. Over the past two seasons, SEISC basketball fans have seen the two-time conference player of the year step up to the challenge when the game was on the line.
Sometimes it was a drive to the basket, sometimes it was a step-back three-pointer, sometimes it was a pump fake at the free throw line and a pass to a wide open teammate in the post. Whichever it was, it was usually the right decision, and it usually worked.
Win or lose, those were the games that Gingerich loved to play in during his career at IMS.
“They are always really fun,” Gingerich recalled. “I feel like I do a good job of staying calm towards the end. Afterwards, I always think ‘wow, that was a good game.’ Even if we lose, those are the games that are fun to play in.”
One game that stands out was his junior season at Highland.
“That was one of the more intense games that I feel like I’ve played in because towards the end of the game it was just back and forth, back and forth. We were up by one with 20 seconds left and Trent (Lasek) got the ball and took it down and got an open layup. It was pretty frustrating, but he made a good play. We came back and had an opportunity, I took the ball and missed the shot and Danny Lam had a chance to tip it in but he couldn’t quite get it either.”
Highland took the game 54-53, avenging a 62-61 loss at IMS earlier in the season.
Almost one year later IMS was in a close road game again, this time the game was tied 44-44 at WACO. Gingerich drove to the baseline, just outside the paint, with three seconds left, almost exactly where he was when his shot rolled off the rim at Highland.
This time, the ball found the center of the net and IMS left with a win.
“It was a relief, that was a bad game for me,” Gingerich recalled. “I struggled from the floor in that game, I was off and wasn’t feeling very confident. My team just trusted me and that was a fun game too. Luckily I got it to go in that one and it helped me feel better about the game.”
Over the past two seasons, the ball was often in Gingerich’s hands as the final seconds ticked off at the end of a quarter or a half. It seemed no matter how many times opponents saw Gingerich’s step back three-pointer, he always created space, and it often went in.
Gingerich picked up the move from his cousin Aaron Gingerich, who played in the state championship game with IMS in 2005.
“We would always go in the gym and work on moves,” Gingerich said. “He has a quick shot and he would take a couple dribbles and then step back quickly before I could get back, so it was something I took away from him I guess. He’s always been a good teacher, showing me new moves and giving me ideas that I can take into games and use on other players.”
Eli has learned a lot about the game from former teammates and of course his head coach/dad, Dwight.
“He’s helped me develop a better understanding of the game and I felt like I always had a good understanding of what he wanted from the team on the court,” Eli said.
“I really looked up to players like Cameron Gingerich, Peyton Thompson, Dallas Nye, and Reggie Hostetler. All those guys were good to play with. One thing I’ll always remember was Peyton’s 40-point game when he was a senior. I had a lot of good times getting to know everyone, and as I got older, starting to take more of the scoring role myself.”
Gingerich finished his career eighth on the all-time scoring list at IMS with 996 career points. He ranks third in career steals with 189, fourth in career assists with 374, and second with 154 made three-point field goals.
Gingerich set the Iowa Mennonite record for free throw percentage over a season (.895), breaking the record of .884 set by Mike Hershberger in 1990. He also tied Karl Yoder and Chance Miller on top of the single-game assist record list with 13.
In between his last two seasons, Gingerich took the court for AAU games with some of the top players in the state. Joining Gingerich with the Iowa CornSharks were three seniors from 3A Spencer including Blake Illig, 6’5” wing Preston Funderburg and 6’6” post Jake Kluender.
“We had probably the best team that I’ve played on,” Ginerich said. “It was fun to have experienced players around me and be able to move the ball to them and let them do their thing.”
The AAU trips were also a great time for his father, Dwight.
“Mo and I tried to allow his interests to guide things and he loved it enough to get highly involved with AAU basketball,” Dwight Gingerch said. “It meant a lot of father-son time on the road together, an experience I will always treasure.”
“Eli has been a hard worker, a very aware player and aware of the people around him,” he continued. “I am most proud of how he’s handled it all, and the person he’s become, as I know it’s not always been easy. He’s been a key player and had a lot put on him the last couple years and he’s handled it with poise. As a point guard, he’s had to really develop his decision-making skills and I believe that’s helped him a lot off the court as well. It’s been a lot of fun to see him play with joy, and he does that most when he’s in harmony with his teammates. I am so grateful for all the players who have been so good to him, both at IMS and on his other teams along the way.”
Eli Gingerich will continue his basketball career at Goshen College next year, where he plans to study computer science.