Esko steamrolls to championship
March 17, 2023
The Eskomos are the lone local team remaining in the Section 7AA boys basketball tournament after Saturday's quarterfinal round of play. Esko picked up an impressive and easy win over Aitkin, while Moose Lake/Willow River dropped a hard-fought tight decision to Rock Ridge.
Esko opened the quarterfinal round by easily dispatching the Gobblers 78-33 in a game they led 49-15 at halftime.
"I thought we did a good job on defense," said Esko coach Derek Anderson. "We executed our game plan very well. We forced a lot of turnovers, rebounded well and we shot the 3-point shot well."
The Eskomos, the No. 2 seed in the section, outrebounded the Gobblers 45-22 in the game and hit 12 three-pointers in the contest.
"In a couple of our final regular season games against Brooklyn Center we didn't box out well on the boards. We told the guys they can make their life a whole lot easier if they will box out, and we did that against Aitkin," Anderson said.
Esko point guard Dalton Spindler led all scorers with 18 points through a variety of drives to the basket and three 3-pointers.
"Dalton is always under control and he gets us into our offense," Anderson said. "He found some soft spots in their zone and he did a nice job for us."
Esko had a total of 10 players score. Koi Perich finished with 15 points, while Cuinn Berger scored 11 points. Bryce Hipp and Braedyn Male each had 7 points, Sam Haugen and Isaak Sertich each scored 5 points, Jace Owens added 4 points and both Carter Zezulka and Jake Randa each finished with 3 points.
The win improved the Eskomo record to 24-3 and sent them to the semifinals Wednesday against Rock Ridge, a team Esko beat 93-76 in December.
The No. 2 seeded Esko team defeated the Wolverines 73-60 in the 7AA semifinals Wednesday at Hermantown High School. Esko will play No. 1 seed Pequot Lakes for the section championship at 6 p.m. Friday, March 17, at Hermantown High School, weather permitting.
Rebels come close
The second quarterfinal game in Hermantown on Saturday was a dandy matchup between No. 3 Rock Ridge and No. 6 Moose Lake/Willow River. The Rebels led 35-33 at halftime and the game seesawed back and forth in the second half before Rock Ridge won 70-63.
"The first half, we were able to get the ball inside to Nolan Nelson, and despite him being undersized he was able to get some valuable baskets for us," said Rebels head coach Paul Dewey. "In the second half they went into a zone and a zone press, which took away our ability to get the ball inside to Nelson."
On the other end of the floor, Noah Mitchell was a challenge for the Rebels as he led the Wolverines with 19 points.
"We focused on stopping their point guard Grant Hansen and I think we did a pretty good job on him," Dewey said. "They decided to try and get the ball inside to Mitchell down on the block and we struggled to stop him."
Mitchell also proved a force on defense as he had numerous blocks.
Adam Neumann heated up from the outside and hit four 3-pointers for the Rebels and finished with a game-high 21 points while Nelson scored 17. Jimmy Walker added 10, Owen Loew scored eight and Luke Dewey had 7 points.
The Rebels finished the season with a record of 16-12 - just two wins shy of their win total from last season.
"Prior to the season I thought we would be right around 16 wins, but with a little luck maybe we could get back to the 18-win mark," said Dewey. "We had a lot of guys do some nice things and we lose five seniors - including two starters - so I was happy with the effort."