New about Eskomo basketball and other area teams
It was tough to tell who wore the wider smile — Judy Wagemaker or Scott Antonutti.
That’s because the Esko freshman’s free throw with .03 seconds remaining elevated the Eskomos past previously unbeaten North Woods 46-45 in last Friday’s Coaches Classic holiday basketball tournament opener, while her proud-of-all coach watched from the sideline in satisfaction.
Wagemaker, a sure-handed 5-foot-7 forward, got to the line when fouled by a Grizzly after she and Esko’s Kailee Katt created a turnover at midcourt leading to a Katt pass to Wagemaker for a waning-second layup before the contact.
At the time of the official’s whistle, the buzzer rang; however, after conferencing, additional time was added on.
Wagemaker, who scored 7 points, missed her first attempt before the right-hander sank the second to secure Esko’s (6-1) upset of Class A’s fifth-ranked North Woods and its prolific 2,317-plus point scorer, Darby Youngstrom.
“I was just glad I had the opportunity to shoot,” said Wagemaker. “Free throws have always come natural for me. All I had in my mind was that I only needed to make one — I knew that I didn’t want the game to go into overtime.”
Overtime was the case a day later when Esko, winners of six straight games, edged Hermantown 55-52, en route to their fourth consecutive Coaches Classic championship.
“I’m proud of all of the girls,” said Antonutti, who hosted his entire team at his home for traditional egg bake, gifts and games the morning of the four-team tournament. “I think they’re all gaining more confidence with each other.”
Ashley Bergerson was perhaps the most confident, scoring a team-best 27 points in the two days, including a stretch where the junior forward — in her first full-time season of varsity like many of the new-starting Eskomos — scored 16 of Esko’s 27 first-half points on the 8-1 Grizzlies.
“We’ve already progressed throughout the season — we definitely have gotten better,” said the 5-foot-10 Bergerson, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Joining Bergerson with all-tournament honors were newly-returned Hailey Salo and Ava Gonsorowski.
Perhaps the biggest honor of the weekend was when Esko’s Casey Staniger sank his 1,000 career point in the first half of the Esko boys’ 87-30 opening-round victory over previously undefeated Northwestern last Friday evening.
Staniger, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, produced the basket during a half where the Class AA top-ranked Eskomos (9-1) exploded for a 57-15 advantage on the 6-1 Tigers in a game where Esko made a staggering 17 of 23 3-point shots.
“We kind of left them speechless,” described Staniger.
“It was the best half of basketball I’ve seen in the Esko gym in my 15 years here,” said Coach Mike Devney. “When the kids shoot like that, there’s not much coaching to do.”
Devney coached his Eskomos, winners of eight consecutive games, to their second straight Coaches Classic title the following night, easing by International Falls 80-45.
Marc Peterson, who scored a team-leading 36 points and had 10 3-pointers, was the tournament’s MVP. He, along with classmate Kory Deadrick and Staniger — all who have over 1,000 career points — earned all-tournament honors.
About his own career milestone, Staniger said he got to watch his female schoolmates and their dual-day heroics.
“I wish our [games] were a little closer,” he said, joking. “It was a great weekend for Esko basketball, that’s for sure.”
All beginning with Wagemaker’s free make, starting the Eskomos’ sweep, and, of course, a string of many smirks.
“After she missed the first, it was exciting to see the second go in,” Antonutti said. “It was a great team effort this weekend — it was easy to have found a smile on your face.”
AREA HOLIDAY ROUNDUP:
Perhaps the most intriguing local faceoff over the holidays was when the Moose Lake-Willow River boys upset former unbeaten Fond du Lac Ojibwe 103-93 in the first night of the Crosby-Ironton Invitational last Thursday.
Both the Rebels (5-4) and Ogichidaa (8-1), along with the host Rangers, finished in a three-way tie for the title.
Barnum (7-1) bolted their way to four holiday non-tournament wins, including their latest at South Ridge, 73-35, on Monday. Like the Panthers (6-2), Cromwell-Wright (1-8) hasn’t won over holiday break, while fellow single-win Carlton (1-8) couldn’t keep up with Two Harbors Monday.
Wrenshall (6-3) has been idle the longest, off 15 days.
Collegiately, both the FDLTCC men (2-8) and women (3-6) play in the Mesabi Range tournament in Virginia Friday and Saturday, in their first games of the New Year.
In prep girls, Barnum (6-2) breezed to the Two Harbors tournament crown, winning by an average of 29 points, South Ridge (5-3) cruised to the Proctor Invitational title, and Carlton (1-6) went winless.
Cromwell-Wright (3-3) won once at the Ely tournament Monday, as did Moose Lake-Willow River (5-2), edging Rockford 45-42 on Saturday for third place in Jordan, Minn.
According to their schedules, both Fond du Lac Ojibwe (3-0) and Wrenshall