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Girls basketball playoffs: Esko speeds past Rebels, fall to Hilltoppers


March 6, 2020

Matthew Moses

Brenna Stark of Esko lines up a shot early in the first half of the section 7AA quarterfinal.

Entering Saturday's Section 7AA quarterfinal game, Esko and Moose Lake/Willow River had identical 16-10 records. Following the game, the No. 1 seeded Eskomos came away with a convincing 80-31 win and a spot in the semifinals Wednesday against No. 2 seed Marshall School at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Key to the Saturday game was a quick start by the Eskomos and their ability to penetrate the Rebels defense, which set them up for open looks throughout the game.

"We shot really well to start the game," said Esko coach Scott Antonutti. "We thought we had a quickness advantage and that we had a number of girls that could take advantage of the match-ups based on quickness and getting to the basket. Once we got a couple of layups, the perimeter shots opened up and we hit those shots as well."

The plan worked like clockwork for the Eskomos, who zipped ahead 48-14 at halftime and were never threatened by the usually tough Rebels, who were seeded No. 4.

Kristy DeMuth and Sarah Wagemaker led the Eskomos with 21 and 16 points respectively while Jayden Karppinen was also in double digit scoring with 10 points.

"I think we established an ability to get to the basket early off the dribble," Antonutti said.

"Once the defense has to worry about giving up layups, they have to help more to stop dribble penetration - once that starts to happen, there are more outside looks at the basket."

Once Esko started to shoot from the outside, they made it hurt with 11 three-pointers.

"Esko is a very good team and they did a nice job on offense of spreading the floor and getting to the basket," said Rebels coach Padrick Judd. "Anytime we closed up the driving lane they were able to hit the outside shot. It is hard to beat a team that can do that."

While the Esko offense was on a roll, defensively they were able to keep the Rebels at bay by only allowing one player, Natalie Mikrot, into double figures in scoring. Mikrot finished with 10 points.

Also scoring for ML/WR were Maci Kukuk and Alivia Mallory with six points each and three each for Emily Bohnsack, Grace Stephenson and Kelli Granquist.

The ability to keep the Polar League Conference MVP, Mikrot, to just three points in the first half was key. At the same time, Esko was able to race out to the early lead - much of that due to 19 first-half points by DeMuth.

"I think we have improved defensively all season: girls are getting to be more patient on the defensive end, less poking at the ball, and less gambling on steals," Antonutti said. "I think when you poke, gamble and miss, you put your teammates in a bad position: they have to help and then you give up outside shots. We were patient at both ends of the court and I hope the girls keep buying into that scheme."

Matthew Moses

Esko's Mallory Sunnarborg defends the lane from Natalie Mikrot (Moose Lake/Willow River) during the first half of the section 7AA quarterfinal.

Joining the scoring parade for the Eskomos were Rachel Antonutti with nine points, plus Brenna Stark and Aila Gabel with six each. Ava Korby finished with five, Kaitly Adkins three points and two each for Emily Rengo and Morgan Stodola.

"The difference in the game was their experience versus our youth," Judd said.

The loss for the Rebels was a tough end to what has been a stellar season.

"This was a great season for the girls with 17 wins, our first playoff victory in nearly 10 years and everyone coming back next year," Judd said.


The Eskomos' game against Marshall finished Wednesday night as this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press. Marshall came out on top 50-46 and will be in the Section 7AA championship at 7 p.m. Friday, March 6 at UMD's Romano Gymnasium.


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