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Esko's state bid ends after playoffs nixed


March 20, 2020

Amber Nichols

Riley Fischer goes to the basket for Esko in its overtime win against Marshall last week. It would be Esko's final game of the season as the state high school league shut down all winter sports.

It took extra time, but Esko knocked off the Hilltoppers 67-64 Wednesday, March 11 to advance to the Section 7AA title game. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Eskomos did not get the chance to play for the championship against Pierz, which defeated Virginia in the other semifinal match up.

Things did not come easy for the Eskomos, who fell behind 32-25 at halftime and had to scratch back in the second half.

"In the locker room we talked about keeping our composure and battling back, one possession at a time," said Esko coach Derek Anderson. "We also told the guys that they had to pick up the intensity on defense."

The first half was tough, as the Eskomos dealt with a crafty defensive plan by Duluth Marshall as well as a Hilltopper offense led by Sam Lohn and Jasper Timm, who finished with 23 and 18 points, respectively.

"They changed their defenses quite a bit, which caused our guys to stand around," Anderson said after the game. "They both hit some tough shots. We gambled for steals when we didn't need to and left them open. After they hit some open shots, they got rolling a little bit."

As the second half started, the Eskomos started moving their feet and the ball. The results were impressive.

"We started moving the ball more and attacking with a purpose," Anderson said. "James LeGarde, Payton Wefel and Riley Fischer all had stretches throughout the game where they carried us. Riley got off to a quick start, then James got going, and Wef closed it out for us."

Esko closed with a flurry as Wefel hit for 23 points, many of those coming in the second half. The Eskomos outscored the Hilltoppers 35-28 and then outscored them 7-4 in the extra session.

"Payton got some open looks and carried us to the win," Anderson said.

LeGarde finished with 20 points and Fischer added 16. Also scoring for the Eskomos were Eli Blue with six points and Preston Lowe with two.

The win should have sent the Eskomos into the section championship game against Pierz, which defeated Virginia 88-60, but it wasn't to be.

Amber Nichols

James LeGarde heads up court on a fast break ahead of Marshall players.

The championship game, as well as the state tournament, was canceled by the Minnesota State High School League due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It left the Eskomos heartbroken.

"We still thought that we would be able to play the game Friday night," Anderson said. "We kept reading about the cancellations in the NCAA and NBA, but when we got the news that the number of fans were being limited, we believed that the game would be played out.

"I think that the unknown for everyone is what makes it so difficult. The fact that our seniors didn't even know they were stepping on the court for the last time makes it even more challenging. The team did everything we asked of them - to put themselves in a position to defend their section title, and now they won't get that opportunity."

The Eskomos finished the season with a 21-7 record.


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