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Esko notches Cloquet sweep

Perich claims all-time school scoring record

Esko completed a boys basketball home-and-home sweep against Cloquet on Tuesday night, coasting to an 83-66 nonconference victory in Esko. Adding to the celebration was senior guard Koi Perich becoming his school's career scoring leader following a contested layup with 13 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the second half.

Esko, ranked seventh in Class AA by Minnesota Basketball News, led 44-23 at the half and never looked back. Sam Haugen had 24 points, Perich added 18 and Braedyn Male had 16 for Esko, which rebounded from a 68-58 loss at nonconference St. Paul Johnson last Friday.

Seth Rothamel had 23 points and Jack Battaglia 21 for the outmanned and unranked Class AAA Lumberjacks.

Esko improved to 14-6, and Cloquet fell to 11-11.

Esko also defeated Cloquet 78-61 on Dec. 8 at Cloquet Middle School gym.

"Esko was in control most of the game," Lumberjacks coach Steve Battaglia said afterwards. "Their size and strength inside with Perich and Male force you to pay a lot of attention to them and Sam Haugen took advantage, hitting seven 3s. They finished with four players in double figures, and we couldn't get a third scorer going tonight."

Esko coach Derek Anderson said his team played better in the first half and moved the ball better than they had in the previous few games.

"Defensively, we were contesting shots and rebounding better as well," Anderson said. "Sam Haugen got hot from the outside which opened some things up and we were able to build a nice lead. I thought we also did a good job of running our lanes in transition."

Still, Battaglia said he wasn't "overly worried" about Cloquet's performance.

"Esko is a good team that is physically dominant, and we figured that we'd need four guys in double figures to have a shot against them," he said. "It was a great atmosphere for a high school basketball game with student sections bantering back and forth. We'll regroup tomorrow at practice and get ready for the stretch run."

Cloquet hosts Moose Lake/Willow River (16-6) on Friday.

"As we round into playoff form, we've still got to find the player combinations that give us the best shot," said Battaglia. "We've got a few options, but we're having trouble with consistency which makes decision-making difficult. Despite our inconsistency, we're a .500 team that competes and has the ability to win most nights. We certainly have enough talent to make a run in March."

Esko resumes a five-game homestand against Bemidji (10-11) on Thursday and Barnum (14-6) Friday.


Esko relies on a strong inside game with Male, a 6-foot-6 senior center and now legendary backboard smasher, and 6-2 senior small forward Perich bent on bullying their way to the rim offensively and hunting down defensive rebounds. Haugen is an elite catch-and-shoot player who makes his living quietly draining soft jumpers from outside the arc. Perich, a lefty who gets his points driving to the rack and on put-backs, has a calming influence on his team. Fellow starter Dalton Spindler is a strong complementary player.

For Cloquet, Rothamel is a lights-out shooter and Battaglia, only a junior, is a poised ball handler who can knock down threes. Battaglia has the skillset to play at the next level.


Remaining regular season games


Friday Host Barnum (17-6)

Tuesday Host Crosby-Ironton (16-2)

Feb. 24 Host Superior (16-4)

Feb. 29 At Annandale (16-3)


Friday Host Moose Lake/

Willow River (16-6)

Tuesday Host Duluth East (5-14)

Feb. 22 At Grand Rapids (6-14)

Feb. 29 At Proctor (4-17)

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