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Cloquet tournament goes on the clock

The Wood City Classic in Cloquet is as traditional as a holiday basketball tournament gets, featuring a warm welcome, picture-perfect venue and action-packed slate of games.

And a shot clock, too.

In yet another rendition of the annual event at the Cloquet Middle School, the eight teams, both boys and girls, agreed to experiment with the 35-second clock in the invitational, one year prior to shot clocks being mandatory for all prep games statewide in Minnesota.

"I think it's cool," said Cloquet boys head coach Steve Battaglia. "Basketball is wildly popular nowadays. And the shot clock is part of the game."

"No longer can you be the team to pass the ball around the horn," added Cloquet girls head coach Heather Young. "It creates a fun atmosphere, with a little more run-and-gun and back-and-forth play. It's preparing our girls for the next level."

Agreed upon and allowed by the Minnesota State High School League at invitational events this winter, teams took to the court Tuesday and Wednesday this week per usual. Of the hundreds of possessions Tuesday, a person could count on one hand how many times the shot clock horn went off or even impacted play.

"I didn't even notice it," said Cloquet senior Kollin Bonneville. "But, it's fun to play with."

"Whether you play high school, college or in the NBA, everyone is playing fast - it's everywhere," said Pine City boys head coach Kyle Allen. "That's where the game is headed."

Allen's Dragons weren't close to a shot clock violation Tuesday, as one of the quickest possession-playing squads statewide.

"We're trying to go quick," Allen said.

While coaches and players were overwhelmingly in favor of the shot clock, one of the biggest hurdles is finding knowledgeable operators for the additional and, at times, confusing clock involving a plethora of scenarios.

Cloquet was quick to find sure-handed operators this week, including Battaglia and Cloquet girls assistant Dan Danielson. Both handled the operation with ease, as well as the on-court officials.

"It doesn't come into play very often," Battaglia said. "The game is played so fast now, there's not that many ball reversals. You might get one pass and kids are taking a shot."

Battaglia's Lumberjacks (2-4) shot their way past Cromwell-Wright, 71-35, in a game Cloquet led 39-20 at halftime and never looked back, despite being without injured starters Seth Rothamel and Marco Mayorga.

Thus, the bench stepped up, scoring points aplenty, while starters Bonneville, Jack Battaglia and Izaiah Carrier carded 17, 16 and 14 points, respectively.

Bonneville, wearing a retro Shaquille O'Neal jersey for a team bonding event with his teammates afterward, enjoys the holiday event every year.

"I just wish we could play more," Bonneville said.

The small-school Cardinals (3-2) meanwhile - playing two classes above their single-A classification against the 3A Lumberjacks - were led by Noah Foster's 12 points, all of which came from behind the arc for the senior standout.

Longtime head Bill Pocernich has no problem playing the larger Lumberjacks, noting it prepares his crew for playoff time in March. On Tuesday, they faced a long, quick and turnover-causing 1-2-2 trap.

"We don't see or face that kind of athleticism in single-A," Pocernich said. "It really prepares us for some of the better single-A teams down the road."

Girls games

The Cardinals girls are one of the better 1A squads and showed that Tuesday in their come-from-behind 67-58 win over Rock Ridge, in which Cromwell-Wright trailed by at least a baker's dozen in the second half before flying back.

Isabella Anderson led all scorers with 22 points for the Cardinals (6-1) followed by Sascha Korpela's 10, including a late runner in the lane to beat the shot clock horn in front of her hyped-up bench and proud coach Jeff Gronner.

"Our first half, I don't think we played very well," Gronner said of his team trailing 33-25. "But our defense picked up, and on offense Sascha stepped up, got in the paint, created, scored and others scored. The last 14 minutes, Sascha was outstanding."

Gronner added that he likes the shot clock, noting "it's better for the game."

Cloquet senior 1,000-point scorer Alexa Snesrud had another solid game for the streaking Lumberjacks (7-1), now winners of three straight, scoring 22 points in a 69-52 win over Mesabi East.

Junior teammates Kiley Issendorf and Quinn Danielson added 11 points each, as Cloquet sank 10 triples, including four from Snesrud, three from Danielson and one from Issendorf.

The shot clock was never an issue for the Lumberjacks, who handled it well, according to Snesrud, noting she and her team practiced with it at shoot-around Tuesday morning.

Tuesday saw another win by the Lumberjacks, but it included 23 Cloquet fouls, equaling 32 Mesabi East free-throws. The Section 7AAA runner-up a year ago, Cloquet will need to adjust better, said head coach Young, who was pleased with her unit's effort.

"I appreciate how hard we play," said Young. "Even with our fouling and turning the ball over too much in my eyes, these girls are still finding a way to win and win together. They gritted it out."

Home cooking

Other scores on Tuesday included Pine City mauling Mesabi East, 80-30, in the boys division. The Dragons played the Lumberjacks for the tournament title and both the Cloquet and Cromwell-Wright girls were looking for a share of the championship with wins Wednesday during press time.

The event, shot clock included, was another hit to all involved.

Allen and his Pine City crew stayed at the AmericInn in Cloquet, dined at Carmen's Restaurant and went to a movie at Premiere Theatres.

Young shared plenty hugs with former alumni and little Lumberjacks on their youth night Tuesday, as plenty of purple jersey-wearing fans flooded the gym on the day's nightcap.

Snesrud smiled when asked about the event she's been playing in for half a decade and now, her last.

"I look forward to it every year," Snesrud said. "It's really fun to be around all of these girls, especially during Christmas time, because it's all about family, and that's what we are."

Pine City's Allen echoed the praise.

"It's our home away from home," he said. "We love it."

"We've been at several holiday tournaments and Cloquet is as good as it gets," added Cromwell-Wright's Pocernich. "It's a well-oiled machine."

Shot clock, included.

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