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'Jacks conquer Section in dramatic fashion

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A scheduling issue nearly didn’t allow the Cloquet boys basketball team to run through a tunnel of crazed middle school students Tuesday afternoon, but before the Lumberjacks went to State, it’s what they wanted to do.

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Unseeded Cloquet (24-4), back to the state boys basketball tournament after a 14-year absence, was aiming to continue their season when facing No. 3 Holy Family Catholic (27-2) in a Class AAA state quarterfinal at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena Wednesday evening as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press.

A win would put the Lumberjacks into Thursday’s 2 p.m. semifinal at Target Center in Minneapolis. The championship is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. at Target Center.

All games will be broadcast by 96.5 FM/WKLK, while fans can also follow Pine Journal reporter (@tylerkorby) on Twitter and read a post-game account at www.pinejournal.com. Live streaming will be provided by http://MSBNsports.net.

“If we shoot well, we’ve got a shot,” said Cloquet Coach Steve Battaglia earlier this week. “Everybody’s got a shot.”

BOYS 7AAA BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

STORY:

DULUTH—Moments after Cloquet qualified for the state boys basketball tournament for the first time in 14 years, senior Jake Bushey was the first player to cut down the nets.

Bushey had netted a career-high 22 points — many on his team-leading six 3-pointers — to propel the Lumberjacks past Hermantown 71-60 in last Thursday’s Section 7AAA final at Duluth East High School.

Bushey, a stocky 6-foot guard, endured a gruesome freak accident last winter when his right shooting hand got pinched in a youth basketball hoop rim and tore open. Foregoing plastic surgery, Bushey missed last year’s postseason, but posted his best game ever last Thursday.

In the all-Lake Superior Conference final — a rematch of last fall’s section football final that the Lumberjacks won — Bushey was 6-of-7 behind the arc. Several times he brought the roughly 1,500 fans to their feet.

“My shots were going in,” Bushey said, wearing the net around his neck after the ceremony, “but more importantly, my teammates got me open and found me. Honestly, it’s all my team.”

Cloquet (24-4) is making its first trip to the boys basketball state tournament since 2000. Current Lumberjacks Coach Steve Battaglia was on the 1997 and 1998 state teams, while his younger brother, Tim, was a member of the 2000 squad.

“It’s been a long 14 years,” Tim said last week.

The Lumberjacks, in their eighth overall state appearance, weakened Hermantown with Bushey’s barrage of triples to a 34-28 halftime lead, as sturdy center Adam Laine then had 12 of his 20 points in the second and Dillon Johnson added 15.

“We’re on top of the world,” said a jubilant Laine, moments after surviving the sea of students who stormed the court following the win. “Only one day of school next week — that’s the best part.”

Thomas Madison did his part scoring 29 points to pace the Hawks (19-10) which dwindled a once 15-point second-half deficit to 65-60 with 1:21 left, but eventually ran out of gas.

“Hats off to Cloquet, they’re a good team — and earned the right to move on,” Hermantown Coach Joe Schmitz said. “Like I told Steve [Battaglia], go down there and make some noise.”

Departing town Tuesday after an end-of-school pep rally, the Lumberjacks are aiming to do exactly that, although senior Maxx Brenner said  “no” bleaching of hair.

“We get to play where the Gophers play,” Johnson added. “This is every kid’s basketball dream — and we’re living it.”

“Before I ever coached a varsity game [nine years ago], these are the first guys I ever coached,” Steve Battaglia said. “To see them like this now, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.

“Now we’re playing with the house’s money,” he said.

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