'Jacks advance to championship game

Fonoti leads Cloquet past Grand Rapids


March 8, 2024

Dave Harwig

Cloquet's Ava Carlson shoots over Grand Rapids' Addison Linder (51) during Saturday afternoon's section 7AAA semifinal game.

Leilani Fonoti poured in 27 points Saturday afternoon to lead all scorers as the Lumberjacks got the monkey off their back against Grand Rapids, with a 74-60 win at Cloquet Middle School.

Fonoti kept Cloquet alive in the first half as the 'Jacks struggled mightily from the floor, making only four field goals in the first half with three of those four coming within 5 feet of the basket. Cloquet's only other first-half field goal was by Quinn Danielson, who nailed a three-pointer.

Fonoti hit two of the baskets in the paint as she used her skill and toughness inside to force Grand Rapids into fouling the Lumberjacks senior. She capitalized on those Thunderhawks fouls, hitting 7-of-7 free throws in the first half.

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Cloquet as a team connected on 15 of 22 free throw attempts in the half. Ava Carlson hit four, while Kiley Issendorf and Carly Johnson both made two free throws.

"Grand Rapids came out and scored the game's first 11 points and put us behind the eight ball," head coach Heather Young stated. "We couldn't buy a basket, but we were thankful that they got into foul trouble, which kept us close as we got to go to the line a lot in that half."

The Lumberjacks trailed Grand Rapids 29-24 at the break but jumped out to a blistering fast start in the second half. The Lumberjacks pressure defense, led by Fonoti and Carlson, forced the Thunderhawks into numerous turnovers. That allowed Cloquet to take its first lead of the game at 33-32, then jumping out to a 7-point lead a little while later at 41-34.

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Grand Rapids continued to battle behind Jessika Lofstrom and Braya LaPlant, who scored 25 and 15 points, respectively, in the 14-point loss Saturday. Grand Rapids tied the contest at 43-43, but Cloquet took over again and never looked back as they built up a 19-point lead at one point late in the second half.

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Lauren Hughes hit two big three-point baskets midway through that second half to thwart a Grand Rapids comeback attempt, and Cloquet continued to make appearances at the charity stripe. They finished 27-42 from the line.

"We fell behind from the start," coach Young said, "but we battled back. We told the girls, 'keep on shooting,' and we never panicked."

Young said it was really special to finally beat Grand Rapids in the playoffs.

"It was a special win not only for me, but the girls, and this one will stick with me," she said. "Having my daughter (Maddy), son (Karson), and my husband (Kyle) also here meant a lot."

With the Cloquet win, the Lumberjacks advanced to the 7AAA championship game against Rock Ridge Thursday night at Duluth Denfeld with a trip to the girls state basketball tournament on the line. Cloquet fell to the Wolverines in the championship game, by a final score of 58-41. Read all about that game in next week's Pine Knot News.

Cloquet 24 - 50: 74

Grand Rapids 29 - 31: 60

Dave Harwig

Cloquet's Leilani Fonoti shoots a three-pointer during Saturday's Section 7AAA semifinal basketball game against Grand Rapids at Cloquet Middle School. She scored 27 points to lead the Lumberjacks, positioning the team in the section final game Thursday, March 7, which they lost.

Cloquet - Leilani Fonoti 27, Ava Carlson 20, Quinn Danielson 9, Lauren Hughes 8, Carly Johnson 4, Kiley Issendorf 6. Totals: 27 for 42 free throws

3-point field goals - Danielson 2, Hughes 2, Fonoti 1.

Grand Rapids: Jessica Lofstrom 25, Braya LaPlant 15, Elle Nelson 7, Bekah Peterson 4, Addison Linder 4, Kayla Jenkins 3, Amanda Scherping 1, Taylor Cash 1. Totals: 12 for 22 free throws

3-point field goals - Lofstrom 3, LaPlant 1, Jenkins 1.


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