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Lumberjacks hold off pesky Cardinals

Anticipation was high in the Cromwell High School gymnasium Tuesday when Cloquet and Cromwell-Wright girls basketball teams met on the hardwood. The Lumberjacks came into the game with a 4-0 record, while the Cardinals were 5-1. Something had to give.

"It is always just a great atmosphere when we go to Cromwell," said Cloquet coach Heather Young. "The fans are loud and they are right on top of you, which makes for fun basketball."

Cloquet had to withstand a furious second-half comeback by the Cards, but the 'Jacks hung on for a 54-45 road win.

The first minutes of the game were an up-and-down affair with the score standing at 6 apiece at one point. Then the Lumberjacks went on a 13-0 run and eventually opened up a 19-point halftime lead.

"That run was tough for us," said Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner. "Cloquet came out with intensity and they are strong and fast and we didn't answer them, so it got away from us a bit."

The second half was a different story, as the Cards continued to slice away at the Lumberjack lead.

"We picked up our intensity in the second half on defense and that led to our offense playing quicker and getting better shots," Gronner said. "Cloquet is so good defensively that we struggled getting shots off in the first half, but we improved that in the second half."

The Cards cut the once large Cloquet lead down to 6 points with 7 minutes remaining in the second half. Then the Lumberjacks got three 3-point shots down the stretch with Quinn Danielson hitting two and Nattie Butler nailing the other long-range bomb.

"That was huge for us," Young said. "Nattie has come up so big the last couple of games and Quinn, who has been frustrated, also came up big for us. We need that as the season goes on."

Cromwell-Wright struggled to stop the Cloquet's Ava Carlson, Carly Johnson and Leilani Fonoti in the first half, as the trio combined for 30 first-half points. The second half was another story as the Cards gave up only 5 points between those three players, which required other players to step up and score in the second stanza.

"I wasn't surprised about how Cromwell came back in that second half," Young said. "They are a good team and coached well. They are just not going to let you win without a fight, and they showed that in the second half."

The Cards got solid games on offense from Isabella Anderson, who finished with 14 points, Jill Anderson with 13 and Emaleigh Olesiak with 11 points. Mya Gronner added 3 points, and Bryanna Foster and Kyra Granholm each scored 2.

Cloquet was led by Carlson with 15 points, and Fonoti with 12. Johnson and Butler each finished with 8 points, while Danielson recorded six. Lauren Hughes scored 3 and Paige Goranson had 2 points.

The win improved Cloquet's record to 5-0 on the season, including wins over Hermantown, Esko, Duluth East, Grand Rapids and now Cromwell. The Lumberjacks are back in action today, Dec. 15, when the Pine City Dragons come to Cloquet.

Cromwell-Wright drops to 5-2, but the two losses are to AAA Cloquet and Mountain Iron-Buhl, which is one of the top teams in the state in Class A again this season.

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