Esko eases past Barnum for a return trip to State
The Esko boys basketball team made a statement when blowing by rival Barnum 61-39 en route to defending their Section 7AA championship last Thursday at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth, as they now return to this week’s state tournament.
Esko (26-3), which needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Mora to advance to State last year, needed no such late-luck in last week’s all-Polar League final with the Bombers.
Esko senior Kory Deadrick, a 6-foot-6 forward, bombed in a game-leading 32 points as the program’s all-time leading scorer used his height advantage and a deadening team defense to embark on the school’s first back-to-back trips to the state tournament.
“Our goal all year has been State,” said Deadrick, who helped Esko ease to a 41-21 halftime lead and sail through the second. “I like the way we’re playing right now. I think we’re playing some of our best basketball.”
Basketball breathes in Esko, although the small town has never won the state pinnacle. Making state trips in 1955, 2003 and last season’s fourth-place performance, the Eskomos are eager to threaten for the ultimate prize this week.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” said senior Marc Peterson, “but we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Although Deadrick, Peterson and senior Casey Staniger — all boasting well-over 1,000 career points — are known for their offensive explosiveness, the Eskomos won with their defense last week, holding Barnum’s Brandon Newman to eight points, 18 points below his nightly average.
“They put a lot of bodies on Brandon and he wore down,” said Bombers Coach Rich Newman, Brandon’s father. “They were up 15, stretched it to 20 and it just got frustrating. Our kids played really tough. Esko was hot and played very well.”
“If we play that way at State, I think we have a good chance at winning it all,” said Staniger about his team defense. “I’m a believer that defense wins championships.”
Allowing a class-best 40.8 points per game — and even less to Barnum (26-3) last week — Esko Coach Mike Devney is confident his team can contend for Saturday’s title.
“Our defense was tremendous tonight,” he said. “Hopefully we can finish this off and bring home a trophy.”
“Since losing that Saturday,” Peterson said of their third-place loss last year, “we’ve made it a goal to play there again.”