'Jacks can't get over Rock Ridge in final

 

March 15, 2024

Dave Harwig

The Cloquet girls basketball team huddled one last time last week after accepting second-place medals after a loss to Rock Ridge in the Section 7AAA championship.

Hopes for a Cloquet girls basketball trip to state were dashed March 7, when No. 2 seed Cloquet fell to the No. 1 seed Rock Ridge, 58-41, in the Section 7AAA final.

It was the second time this season the Lumberjacks played the new cooperative high school formed by joining Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia, and the second time Cloquet lost. It was a much closer game most of the night than the final score indicated.

Lumberjacks head coach Heather Young said they were prepared to face a really good offensive team with strong shooters.

"A good team usually has one or two good shooters, and Rock Ridge has four or five," Young said. "We were figuring out how to shut them down and our defense was really solid in the first half. Where we fell short on our side was with shooting. Kids that normally chip in eight to 10 points had zero. It wasn't for lack of effort either, the shots just weren't falling for us."

Coming into the championship game, the Wolverines had a record of 25-5. Cloquet was riding a seven-game winning streak and had an overall record of 20-10.

The Duluth Denfeld high school gymnasium was a perfect neutral site for the championship game. Both schools had their pep bands present to help exercise their school spirit. A great crowd from both communities added to the hype and excitement. The battle of the bands was a coin toss standoff.

"The gym was electric with purple," Young said, commenting on all the signs that younger Lumberjacks brought. "It's great to see all the connections that our girls have made by giving back and working with younger players."

Cloquet trailed by only one at halftime, 27-26, but were outscored by the Wolverines 31-15 in the second half. Cloquet and Rock Ridge matched up equally, sizewise, but the 'Jacks didn't have the Lamppa advantage.

The Lamppa sisters led the Wolverines in scoring as a unit. Senior Emma Lamppa was on fire, scoring six 3-pointers for 18 points, while Lexi rattled off 11 points and Maija Lamppi added 8. Anna Westby also scored 18 points for Rock Ridge.

The Lumberjacks team was once again led by all-conference seniors, the "Twin Towers" - Leilani Fonoti with 19 points and Ava Carlson with 12. Rounding out the Cloquet scoring was Lauren Hughes with 5, Carly Johnson with 4, and Quinn Danielson with 1.

Cloquet made 7-of-17 shots at the free throw line, while Rock Ridge sank 6-of-9 free throw attempts.

Even though it was a physical first half, each team had committed only four team fouls. At the half, former Lumberjack 1,000-point scoring guard Kami Diver noted that both teams were playing hard and hustling on defense.

"It's been a fun game to watch," she said from the spectator stands.

The key turning points came in the second half. With Cloquet trailing by only two points, two Lumberjacks defenders had Rock Ridge's Emma Lamppa seemingly locked up with the shot clock running down. In desperation, Lamppa spun away and heaved the ball at the basket. As the shot clock horn sounded, the ball bounced off the glass and scored 3 points for the Wolverines. Then, in successive possessions, after the Jacks had come up empty, Lexi Lamppa scored on three driving two-point spinning layups. The lead was suddenly 11, and Rock Ridge never looked back.

Additionally, Wolverines Rock Ridge coach Byron Negen implemented a half-court trapping defense meant to keep Cloquet on the perimeter and not allow them to get the ball inside to their dominant post players. Coach Young called timeouts, trying to devise options for an inside game attack, but the Wolverines weren't biting and played tough defense.

Dave Harwig

Cloquet's Ava Carlson shoots over Rock Ridge's Alexandra Flannigan during Thursday night's game at Duluth Denfeld.

Cloquet will have big shoes to fill next year after a strong, inspirational senior class graduates, including Carlson, Danielson, Fonati, Johnson and Kiley Issendorf, along with senior team manager Madi Johnson. They weren't afraid to dive for loose balls, block shots, or show up to help with kindergarten and grade school girls Saturday morning practices in addition to volunteering at youth tournaments and running the "Meet the 'Jacks" youth basketball programs every year.

"Our seniors will be sorely missed because of their leadership," Young said. "They really helped build the culture of this program, by giving back along with their hard work and dedication. They really led by example.

"I feel so privileged to have had the seniors I've coached."

Rock Ridge lost 67-50 to

Alexandria Area in the Minnesota State Girls Class AAA basketball quarterfinals at Maturi Pavilion at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, March 13.

 
 

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