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Esko boys take home tournament title


January 3, 2020

Amber Nichols

Esko's Payton Wefel goes up for a basket against Duluth Marshall's Matthew Erickson last week during the Esko Coaches Classic. Esko took home the boys title.

The Esko boys basketball team captured their eighth consecutive Esko Coaches Classic Holiday championship Saturday by dominating Duluth Marshall 94-52 in the title matchup.

In what was a split tournament for the boys portion of the tournament, Esko played Northwoods on Dec. 16, defeating the Grizzlies 95-77 in an opening round game. Three Eskomos scored in double digits in the win over Northwoods, including James LeGarde and Payton Wefel, who both hit for 30 points, along with Eli Blue, who scored 23 points. Esko was trailing 45-44 at the break, so came from behind for the 18-point win.

"We played so well in the second half: we forced turnovers, took care of the basketball and hit some big shots," head coach Derek Anderson said. "Playing without the top player from a year ago, these kids responded in a big way and shows that we are a balanced team."

In the championship game, Esko started fast and never looked back as they ran out to a 20-point (48-28) lead at halftime, and continued to roll in the second half to come away with the 42-point win. Tournament MVP James LeGarde finished with a game-high 34 points, and Payton Wefel ended with 20 points. Riley Fischer was also in double digits with 10 points. Jonah Randa and Preston Lowe each had seven, while Eli Blue and Cade Berger had four each. Jerry Andler finished with three points, both Brett Lillo and Chad Hart added two points and Nick Swanson scored a point for the winners.

"We moved the ball really well on offense and we were very unselfish with the ball finishing with over 20 assists in the game," Anderson said. "It was a great team win."

The Eskomos boys team has won the tourney every year since the 2012-2013 season. Esko has defeated Northwestern of Maple Wisconsin three times in title games, International Falls twice, along with single victories over Hinckley-Finlayson, Cannon Falls, and Duluth Marshall.

Girls take fourth

In what was one of the strongest fields in recent history, the Esko girls basketball team fell to Hermantown in the third-place game Saturday afternoon by a final score of 56-35.

"There were four or five teams coming into the tournament that really had a good chance to win," head coach Scott Antonutti said. "Two teams were unbeaten, one team only had one loss, and [we] and St. Anthony each had two losses coming in. I thought if we played well, we had our chances to be successful."

Esko opened the tournament with a 53-25 win over Eveleth-Gilbert, led by Kristy Demuth who scored 13 points in the win. Demuth played her first game in almost two weeks.

"Kristy played very well considering she hasn't practiced and only did some shooting during that time," Antonutti said.

Also scoring for Esko in the win over the Golden Bears were Jayden Karppinen with 10 points, Mallory Sunnarborg with eight points and Aila Gabel with seven. Sarah Wagemaker scored four points, Aubrey Compo had three. Avery Kuklinski, Emily Rengo, Kaitlyn Adkins and Brenna Stark each scored two.

The semifinals proved to be a huge test for Esko as they met unbeaten Mesabi East. But the Giants started fast and cruised to a 36-14 lead at the break before ending the game with a 32-point win at 64-32.

"Ava Hill is amazing one of the best players in the Northland," coach Antonutti said. "She's going to the Main U to run track, but she's most definitely a D-2 basketball player."

Coach Antonutti said he thought the Eskomos played well defensively.

Hill scored a game-high 20 points for Mesabi East while Esko had no player in double digits. Aila Gabel scored seven points and Sarah Wagemaker had six points to lead the Eskomos on the score sheet.

Demuth was held to only two points in limited action against Mesabi East and she didn't play in the third-place game against Hermantown as she is still working to get back to 100 percent.

Sophomore Jayden Karppinen led Esko with 12 points in the third place game loss to Hermantown, but it wasn't enough as the Hawks Elly Schmitz scored 19 points with 12 coming from behind the three-point line in the 56-35 win.

"We started two juniors and three sophomores against Hermantown and with us being so young and struggling to get off fast it's tough against another good team like Hermantown." Antonutti said. Also scoring for Esko were Sarah Wagemaker with nine points, Kaitlyn Adkins with five and Emily Rengo, Rachel Antonutti and Brenna Stark all with three points each.

The third-place Hawks were hoping to make it to the title game to face the Giants, who eventually won the tournament 68-37 over St. Anthony.

"We came up just short against St. Anthony, and in the third place game we played very well getting off to a fast start," Hermantown coach Beth Clark said. "I hoped we could have faced Esko with a full squad; they have a lot of talent and are very well coached. I know when we play them again in February they will be ready to face us."

Amber Nichols

Esko's Aubrey Compo goes up for a jump shot against St. Anthony Village's Maya Hanson.

Pine Knot News sports reporter Kerry Rodd contributed to this story.


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