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Esko's Aaron Olson makes a reverse layup past the defense of Cloquet's Adam Laine during Monday night's basketball game. Dave Harwig/viewthroughmylens.net

BOYS BASKETBALL ROUNDUP: Esko edges Cloquet in crowded clash

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ESKO—As quick as Aaron Olson is on the basketball court, the Esko junior is even quicker out of the locker room.

Olson made a fast exit to join a crowd of students and supporters in their school’s entryway after he and the Eskomos edged Cloquet 64-53 before a nostalgic basketball atmosphere of an estimated 1,500 fans Monday night in Esko.

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The highly-anticipated evening saw many spectators climbing into the wooden — packed body-to-body — bleachers to get a spot in an overly-hot, packed gymnasium. Even without a seat, several students sat on the far-side corner of the court to watch a game in which Olson scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half to assist four Esko players in double figures.

“I’d say he’s the most athletic guy on our team,” said senior teammate Kory Deadrick of the speedy, high-leaping Olson, who at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, is a football receiver, too. “He’s fast, he’s strong. He plays big when you need him to.”

In the biggest game of the season, Esko Coach Mike Devney said Olson — who made a first-half 3-pointer, then two free-throws and four layups (including two acrobatically) in the second — put together “his best game as an Eskomo.”

Although the Eskomos led 30-26 at halftime, the Lumberjacks leapt to a 34-30 advantage via an 8-0 spurt to start the second behind a pair of opposite wing 3-pointers from Dillon Johnson and a basket inside by center Adam Laine. From there, Cloquet turned the ball over 12 times in the game’s final 15 minutes, according to Coach Steve Battaglia.

“We kind of lost our minds there, trying to squeeze in passes and penetrate too much,” said Battaglia of his team’s decision making. “Turnovers were the story. They killed us.”

“We handed [the lead] right back to them,” said Johnson, who scored 16 points to aid Laine’s team-high 19, despite being at home ill most of Monday and Tuesday this week.

Johnson said the nearby defeat to Class AA’s top-ranked Esko (19-3) — winners of six straight — was painful for his Cloquet (17-4) teammates, snapping a five-game win streak.

“It’s always a stinger,” he said, as the Eskomos avenged a 68-61 loss at Cloquet last season. “It’s never one fun to lose.”

“Last year was in our minds,” added Deadrick, who had 19 points, followed by Marc Peterson and Casey Staniger’s 15 and 13, respectively. “We wanted to go out and get the W.”

They sure did, never trailing after Olson’s left-baseline drive past Laine to make it 42-41 on a night never to forget.

“We’ve been looking forward for this one the whole season,” said Olson, after his career evening. “It felt good.”

“I think it was his coming-out party,” added Devney.

BOYS AREA ROUNDUP:

Barnum (19-2) broke its previous 63-day, 18-game winning marathon when the Class AA third-ranked Bombers were bested by Woodbury’s New Life Academy 61-46 Saturday on the road.

Carlton (3-17) could not outlast Polar League visitor McGregor Monday in an 80-75 double-overtime loss for the Bulldogs, now losers of three straight and nine of their past 10 games.

Cromwell-Wright (5-16) won at Polar League foe Cook County 61-51 Tuesday in Grand Marais, as the visiting Cardinals cracked a former three-game losing streak with the victory.

Fond du Lac Ojibwe (17-3) overwhelmed Cherry 98-49 in Cloquet last Friday, as the state’s highest-scoring Ogichidaa — 89.4 points per game — won their third consecutive contest.

Moose Lake-Willow River (14-7) rolled by visiting Polar League McGregor 81-43 last Friday. The winning Rebels have been on top of seven of their last eight efforts.

South Ridge (17-3) ripped by Two Harbors 85-54 Monday in Culver and the Panthers prove to be a menace, now winning their past 10 games throughout 33 unbeaten days.

Wrenshall (11-9) won 69-65 over Hill City Tuesday at home, as the up-then-down Wrens got back to their winning ways, marking their second victory of three attempts in February.

FDLTCC (6-16) fell twice to Minnesota College Athletic Conference foes Vermilion 87-62 last Wednesday in Ely, as well as Saturday at Mesabi Range 88-77 in Virginia. The Thunder men’s team, losers of three straight, host home doubleheaders Friday and Saturday on campus in Cloquet.

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