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'Jacks settle neighborhood feud

In a game that featured massive momentum swings, the Cloquet and Esko girls basketball teams kicked off thier seasons with a real nailbiter that ended in a 55-52 win for the 'Jacks.

Both teams had 20-8 records a year ago and are looking for similar success this season.

Early in the game it was the Eskomos with the upper hand as they built a 24-14 lead by late in the first half. A 10-2 Cloquet run pulled them to just a 29-28 deficit at intermission.

"It was a great opening game," Esko coach Sue Northey said. "Both teams had a lot of opportunities to learn and grow from the game. For me, coming back as head coach after being gone for so many years was a lot of fun, especially to go up against (Cloquet coach Heather Young), who I respect so much."

Northey had been the head coach for many years before leaving the program in the hands of Scott Antonutti.

"We really struggled against them in the first half," Cloquet's Young said. "We were able to cut the lead late and it gave us a little momentum heading into the second half."

In the first half the Eskomos relied on the scoring of Kyra Johnson - who had 10 first half points - and Hannah Swanson, who added seven. Cloquet needed a big effort by Kiley Issendorf in the first half, 11 points, to keep the game tight.

Perhaps the biggest story of the half was the ability of the Eskomos to hold Cloquet's Alexa Snesrud to just two first-half points.

"They did a great job on her in the first half so we were very fortunate that Kiley (Issendorf) had a great first half for us," Young said.

The Lumberjacks were able to move the ball inside against Esko and get fouls, but made only 9-of -18 free throws into the halftime break.

"I really thought our kids came out hard and played hard," Northey said. "I think the end of the first half was a big key because we had a 29-23 lead and we had the ball and missed a shot and they ended up hitting a three and another basket to get within one. And that helped them in the start of the second half."

The Lumberjacks jumped out to a 36-31 lead after the break, but an 11-0 run by the Eskomos pushed them back in front 42-36.

"We went into a 1-2-2 zone press and that seemed to cause them some problems," Northey said. "If we could have held on to the ball, we had a good chance to pull away, but that's how things work."

Eventually the Eskomos built a 49-40 lead but the Lumberjacks, led by Alexa Snesrud, roared back late to score 15 of the game's final 18 points and take the win.

"After only scoring two points in the first half Alexa really came to play in that second half," Young said. "We look to her for leadership and to score for us and she really turned things on."

Trailing 52-49 with under two minutes left, the Lumberjacks got a basket, two free throws from Snesrud, followed by two free throws from Quinn Danielson to secure the win.

It didn't come easy as Esko had a chance at the end of the game with 15 seconds remaining.

"We felt they would try to get the ball to Hannah Swanson, who had a great game for them," Young said. "We had Carly Johnson, who just came to basketball after being a hockey player for the last five or six years, guarding Swanson and she did a great job."

There was a deflection of the ball and the clock ran out on Esko.

"I credit my team for how hard they battled and I credit Cloquet for never giving up," Northey said.

Cloquet was led in scoring by Snesrud with 20 points, followed by Issendorf with 14 points and Lauren Hughes with eight. Ava Carlson chipped in with seven and both Quinn Danielson and Macie Majerle had three points.

Esko was led by Swanson with 17 points. Kyra Johnson had 11 points. Erin Pettyjohn, Cadence Berger and Kaitlyn McConnell each had five points, Jordan

Stodola finished with four and Avery Kuklinski and Kallie Sinnott each added three.

The two teams will meet again in early January.

"What could be better than opening the season against a team who your girls know so well," Northey said. "To get to play your neighbor - and the kids know each other on a personal level - is a great thing. It was a good game for both teams and both teams will get better as the season goes along."

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