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Esko clamps down, reaches semifinals


March 13, 2020

Payton Wefel and James LeGarde led the scoring barrage and the rest of the Esko boys basketball team played shutdown defense in Saturday’s 68-47 win over Pequot Lakes in the Section 7AA quarterfinals at Romano Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“Defensively we wanted to keep them out of the paint on drives because they are very quick and crafty with the ball,” said Esko coach Derek Anderson of the Patriots. “We wanted to take the driving lanes away and keep them in front.”

For the most part, that is exactly what the Eskomos accomplished as they built a 33-25 halftime edge behind the offense of Wefel, LeGarde and Riley Fischer who ended up with 25, 19 and 14 points, respectively.

“Wefel got us rolling early on in the game and scored our first 15 points,” Anderson said. “Pequot made some adjustments which opened up some things for both James (LeGarde) and Riley (Fischer). They can all score in a variety of ways.”

Key for the Eskomos was their ability to get to the free throw line — where they hit 20 of 25 free throws — which doubled up the number of points the Patriots got from the charity stripe.

“We wanted to stay aggressive and attack them. We were very passive the first time we played and it resulted in a loss,” Anderson said. “We wanted to keep the pressure on them by constantly attacking and it paid off.”

The first time Esko and Pequot Lakes tangled was back on Feb. 4 in a game that saw the Patriots win by 10 points and the Eskomos give up 69 points. Flash forward a month later, and the Eskomo defense proved to be stout — giving up just 47 points in a 21-point victory.

Esko has proven its resilience all season long.

Most notably, the Eskomos had to overcome the loss of one of their top players, Trevor Spindler, who was injured in a car accident.

“We had to make some pretty big adjustments when Trevor went out. He was such a difference maker when he was on the court because he could lock his guy up on defense and he could get us a bucket when we needed one,” Anderson said. “I don’t think you can adjust to that situation, but the players knew we still had a lot of talent left. The players also knew we wouldn’t replace him, but everyone has stepped up their game a little bit more.”

The victory put the Eskomos in the 7AA semifinals on Wednesday night against Duluth Marshall. Esko came out on top 67-64 and will play Pierz in the final at 7 p.m. Friday at UMD. Pierz defeated Moose Lake/Willow River and Virginia to reach the championship game.

The Eskomos are 20-7 on the season.


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