Eskomos freeze out Cardinals


February 3, 2023

Dave Harwig

Esko's Kyra Johnson scores past Cromwell's Bryanna Foster during Monday night's basketball game.

While it's evident how hard the Esko girls basketball team plays on the court against its opponents, head coach Sue Northey is quick to note her Eskomos don't hold back when it's blue versus gold.

"Sometimes we play harder against one another at practice," admitted Northey.

"We're all super-competitive," added junior Hannah Swanson. "We all hate losing and just love to win."

That winning spirit was on full display earlier this week when Esko earned a 51-43 comeback victory over Cromwell-Wright Monday, Jan. 30, at Esko High School.

The eight-point victory between the pair of Polar League powers saw the hosts trailing 30-23 at halftime, before the Eskomos put the freeze on the Cardinals in the second, holding Cromwell-Wright to a mere 13 points and just five made field goals.

In fact, midway through the second half, the Cardinals had sunk just two shots as Esko exploded on a 17-5 run during that span and never looked back.

Whether it was a loose ball, an offensive rebound or a steal, the Eskomos earned a wealth of extra chances in the second half - an 18-minute stretch Northey said was their best spurt of the season.

"I thought our kids accepted the challenge," Northey said. "Cromwell is a good, well-disciplined team. We had to change the tempo and our kids really did a nice job in the first four to five minutes of the second half. Things kind of just rolled from there."

"Esko pushed up the intensity and we didn't match it," said Cromwell-Wright head coach Jeff Gronner. "We always talk about the first couple of minutes of the second half. We were looking to expand our lead to double digits, but it went the other way."

That it did, and in a hurry, as the 5-foot-8 Swanson scored a game-best 15 points, eight of which came in the second frame to lead seven Eskomo scorers. Kyra Johnson finished with 12 points, Avery Kuklinski seven and both Erin Pettyjohn and Cairin Berger netted six apiece in a well-balanced Esko effort.

While the Eskomos were firing on all cylinders, Cromwell-Wright was anything but, going what Gronner said was 0-for-10 from the 3-point line in the second half in an uncharacteristic 18 minutes for the usual sharp-shooting Cardinals, a Section 7A favorite.

"We had a hard time scoring," said Gronner, crediting Esko's switch to a half-court trap that was effective. "The ball just wouldn't go in."

When the ball did go in, sophomore Siiena Anderson scored a team-high 12 points, while recent 1,000-point scorer Sascha Korpela was contained to just nine, Isabella Anderson seven and both Bryanna Foster and Mya Gronner six.

While a prior four-game winning streak was snapped for the Cardinals (15-4), they got back to their winning ways Tuesday, Jan. 31, with a 70-51 victory over Two Harbors, amongst a busy stretch of tough road games ahead.

Siiena Anderson, a 5-7 guard, admitted Monday's setback was beneficial.

"It was almost good that we lost, because it showed us what we have to work on for these upcoming games," she said. "We definitely wanted to win it, but we aren't hanging our heads too low. We know it was good for us. Esko just stepped up to the plate."

"These are the types of games we are going to see in the tournament," said Gronner of his 7A runners-up a year ago. "We just want to keep that intensity up for a whole game. We're focusing on our consistency. Every game, we've been a little bit up and down - I'd like us to get a little more consistent when we get into March."

Speaking of March, both teams will be prevalent, with the Cardinals a perennial small-school power and the Eskomos (10-6) a threat amid a deep cast of contenders in 7AA. Especially with the way they collectively compete.

"Everyone does what's best for the team, not for themselves," Swanson said. "Everyone can just go in and make a difference."

Dave Harwig

Cromwell's Sascha Korpela shoots between 3 Esko defenders during Monday night's basketball game.

That unselfishness is what Northey, back on the sidelines for her 19th season after 14 years away, likes most about her bunch. A nightly postgame basketball award has often been divided amongst Eskomos. Monday, it was their smothering second-half team defense that was highlighted as most pivotal. No questions asked.

"Our strength is our collective efforts," Northey said. "We have hung our hat on that all year and now we're getting better at knowing how to do that."

Swanson, a smooth-shooting left-handed guard, agreed, adding their team cohesion on and off the court is second to none.

"We've really learned how to work together," she said. "Everyone is always helping each other and talking. We have good chemistry. In the hallways at school, after school - I really love our team."

Even if they go at each other when it's blue versus gold at practice.


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