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Cromwell-Wright, Esko lead the pack into playoffs


February 28, 2020

The Cardinals girls basketball team is poised to make a deep run into the 2020 girls section playoffs as action begins this week. Cromwell-Wright has been one of the top teams in Class A over the past half dozen years and are, once again, the top seed in the Section 7A playoffs.

Last season the Cardinals fell in the section title game to Mountain Iron Buhl. This season only two losses have prevented the Cardinals from an unbeaten regular season. Entering the playoff the Cards are 24-2 with the only two losses coming to Minneota - the Class A top ranked team - and also to Hermantown, which is ranked in Class AAA.

"We are looking to make a deep run into the playoffs this season" head coach Jeff Gronner said, "but getting out of the section will be a real challenge."

Again, the Cardinals still most likely will have to face nine time defending section champion MIB but they are ready.

"We played a strong schedule on purpose" Gronner said. "The teams we faced got us battle-tested as the section tournament begins."

The Cardinals have made two appearances at the state tournament in the past five seasons, both of those coming from when they were assigned to play in Section 5A. Cromwell-Wright fell to Bigfork in the Section 7A semifinals in 2018 and lost to the MIB Rangers in last year's finals.

This season hopes to end differently thanks to the Cardinals' two most dangerous weapons: cousins Taya and Shailey Hakamaki. Both girls recently cracked 2000 points in their careers, in the same game against South Ridge on Feb. 17.

The Cardinals (24-2) will host Northeast Range (4-18) Thursday night in Cromwell. A victory Thursday moves them into the section semifinals Saturday at UMD.

Playoff news

The Carlton Bulldogs (13-11) will be led by seniors Alaina Bennett - who reached the 1,000-point mark recently - Kaylee Aselson, plus Brynne and Abby Mickle. The Bulldogs will play in Grand Marais Thursday against Cook County (9-11). The Vikings, who are the seventh seed, did not face Carlton this season as their game was canceled due to weather. A Carlton win Thursday could have the Bulldogs meet the nine-time defending section champion Rangers of MIB on Saturday.

Wrenshall was seeded 19th and finished their season 2-20 with a loss in a section play-in game Monday night in Silver Bay.

Eighth-seeded South Ridge (13-13) will host Floodwood (11-12) Thursday night in Culver. The Panthers are led by a very young group of underclassmen including freshmen Adella Olesiak, and Rylee Young, junior Alanna Young and sophomore Paris Fierkelepp.

"We have played up and down all season," coach Brad Olesiak said. "If we can play our game, and cut down on mistakes and unforced turnovers, we could shock some teams in the playoffs." The South Ridge/Floodwood winner will face either Cromwell-Wright or Northeast Range Saturday at UMD.

Barnum (11-15) will play at Braham Thursday night as the Section 5A playoffs move into the second round. No. 6 seed Barnum will face No. 3 Braham (13-12), after Braham defeated Barnum 70-65 a week ago.

The Section 7AA tournament began Wednesday night at home sites with both Esko and Proctor receiving first-round byes as the top seeds in their respective sub sections. Esko (16-10) plays in subsection 1 and will face the winner of the Moose Lake/Willow River vs Pillager game Wednesday in Moose Lake. Esko is seeking to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2018.

"This is probably one of the toughest sections in the state," Esko coach Scott Antonutti said. "Our half of the section has several quality teams with us: Pequot Lakes, ML/WR, Crosby-Ironton, and Pillager, but the other half of the section is incredible with defending section champion Proctor, Duluth Marshall, Virginia and Mesabi East. Three of the four teams have been ranked in the state polls."

Esko is led by senior guard Kristy Demuth - another player who recently cracked 1,000 points in her career - and a group of talented underclassmen that includes juniors Mallory Sunnarborg and Brenna Stark. The trio, plus a group of talented sophomores, make Esko a dangerous team.

In Section 7AAA, Cloquet (3-23) will be in action Wednesday night as the 7AAA playoffs begin. Cloquet faced Princeton (14-12) at Princeton as this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press. The Tigers are the No. 2 seed in the 7AAA playoffs while Cloquet is the No. 7 seed. Cloquet is led by sophomore forward Maddie Young, who enters the playoffs averaging 13 points per game. A very young squad with only one senior, Kate Owens, the Lumberjacks lost to Princeton 77-33 earlier this season.


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