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Esko settles down, drubs Cloquet

The start of last week's basketball game between Esko and Cloquet was not what Esko coach Derek Anderson anticipated.

"We came out and got three fouls and had five or six turnovers right away," said Anderson. "We were sloppy and we had to call a timeout. We like to play fast, but we needed to slow things down and get under control."

Following the timeout, Esko came back with a vengeance and sprinted to an 18-point halftime lead. They ended the game with an impressive 75-61 road win over the Lumberjacks.

"We had a late lull in the first half that cost us," said Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia. "We've done that before, and we can't afford to do that if we want to beat good teams like Esko."

The first half saw Esko wing Sam Haugen toss in 14 points to help give his team the lead. Koi Perich added 10 points in the first half for Esko.

"Sam came out and was more aggressive looking for his shot and he knocked them down when he got them," Anderson said.

While Perich and Haugen were hot in the first half for Esko, the Lumberjacks relied on guard Jack Battaglia, who scored 11 points. The 'Jacks were hampered by a quick, stifling Esko defense.

"Against Hermantown I felt Jack needed to finish better, and he did that against Esko," said coach Battaglia of his son, a junior. "It hurt us a bit not having Malachi Bridge, who was out all week due to an illness. He is an important part of our offense and our defense."

Another huge factor in the win was Esko's ability to shut down Cloquet's Shaza Henagin and Joe Bailey, who averaged 18 and 13 points, respectively, entering the game. The pair were held to just one point between them by Esko.

Perich led Esko with 21 points for the game. Haugen added 14, all in the first half. Esko got a big second half from Braedyn Male, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half. Also in double-digit scoring for Esko was Zander Gabel, who finished with 12 points. Rounding out Esko's scoring were Dalton Spindler with 6 points, while Jackson Peterson and Jake Randa each added 5 points.

Jack Battaglia led Cloquet and all scorers with an impressive 33-point night.

"We knew he was going to get the ball and we talked about him on defense," Anderson said. "He did a good job of getting his shot and finishing."

Joining Battaglia on the scoreboard for Cloquet were Seth Rothamel with 18 points, James Wilmot with 5, 4 points for Noah Hanson and 1 for Henagin.

"I was happy for Rothamel," coach Battaglia said. "He will be a big key for us as the season goes on."

The win improved Esko to 2-0 while Cloquet fell to 1-3. After opening with a win over Hibbing, the Lumberjacks have lost three in a row to North Branch, Hermantown, and Esko.

"It's an unbelievably tough start to the schedule," coach Battaglia said. "We just keep telling the team that this will make us better come playoff time, and that's when it counts."

Esko had seven players score in what was a balanced effort.

"We have a lot of kids who can play basketball for us," Anderson said. "We have focused on our defense getting up on the ball and defending the perimeter and contesting shots. Offensively, we've talked a lot about moving the ball and we preach to pass the ball to the open man and not force shots. When we do that, we can be a tough team."

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