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Esko rises to the challenge

Esko and Pequot Lakes are located 107 miles apart, compete in separate conferences and are fierce competitors in Section 7AA high school boys basketball.

A Pine Knot News analysis of recent regular- and post-season game results between the storied programs shows how acutely competitive their rivalry is, with the Patriots holding a 6-5 won-loss lead since the 2018-19 season.

Pequot Lakes has won three straight 7AA championships, including two finals victories against Esko. Esko is 2-3 against the Patriots in regular- and post-season play in the last three seasons, including a 50-40 road win Tuesday night behind a 17-point performance by Koi Perich and 11 points from Dalton Spindler.

The game was a bounceback for Esko, after losing to Cannon Falls Saturday.

The Class AA, No. 6-ranked Patriots had won three straight in the rivalry, including a 77-59 win in the 7AA final a year ago. Esko’s last state tournament appearance was in 2019, when they defeated the Patriots 63-53 in the section final and the rivalry started to heat up.

Ranked 11th statewide in Class AA, Esko’s victory Tuesday night kept them unbeaten against 7AA competition this season, at 7-0, with Pequot Lakes falling to 6-1. Esko now has a leg up on the Patriots (15-3) and Crosby-Ironton (16-1) for the No. 1 seed in the upcoming 7AA tournament, thanks to having played a more demanding schedule.

“Pequot is a really good team, and we match up very well with them,” said fifth-year Esko coach Derek Anderson. “We’re very athletic and feature a lot of guys who can score the basketball. Our challenge is to play better team basketball, and not to play isolation basketball despite the individual talent of our players. We expect to compete for a state tournament berth every season.”

Joining Perich and Spindler as Esko elite players are 6-6 Braedyn Male and Sam Haugen.

“Perich is super explosive, super athletic, has a high motor, attacks the rim and can finish with contact,” said Anderson, who teaches fourth-grade at Esko’s Winterquist Elementary. “Male gives us a strong inside presence, and Haugen is an elite three-point scorer and explosive offensively. Spindler leads us in assists, blocks and steals and is a double-digit scorer.”

Esko (13-5) will visit St. Paul Johnson on Friday night, before beginning a five-game homestand against Cloquet at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Esko will also play host to Bemidji, Barnum, Crosby-Ironton and Superior before concluding regular-season play Feb. 29 at Annandale.


Esko vs. Pequot Lakes

2023-24 Won 50-40 at Pequot Lakes (regular season)

2022-23 Lost 77-59 in 7AA championship; lost 66-63 at home (regular season)

2021-22 Lost 58-51 in 7AA championship; won 63-50 at Pequot Lakes (regular season)

2020-21 Lost 74-54 in 7AA semifinals; lost 59-58 at home (regular season)

2019-20 Won 68-47 in 7AA semifinals; lost 69-59 at Pequot Lakes (regular season)

2018-19 Won 58-45 in 7AA championship; won 63-53 at home (regular season)