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Fan photo by Scott Blatchford/Northland Smart Shopper

STATE BASKETBALL: Lumberjacks fall to Holy Family Catholic

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MINNEAPOLIS — For the Cloquet boys basketball team, facing Holy Family Catholic was a tall task.

     The third-seeded Fire — with nine players standing 6-foot-2 or taller — used their height advantage to top the unseeded Lumberjacks 63-41 in Wednesday’s Class AAA state boys basketball quarterfinal at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.

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     Cloquet (24-5), making its first state tournament appearance in 14 years, scored the game’s first basket when senior Dillon Johnson swished a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to send a whited-out Lumberjack student section into a roar behind their bench. But Holy Family Catholic (28-2) — winners of 11 straight — then found a groove.

     Fire senior Joe Hanel, a savvy 6-6 forward, scored 14 points, featuring a left-baseline two-hand slam in the first half to ignite a later 14-0 run and 34-21 halftime lead.

     Hanel followed 6-11 junior Justin Dahl’s 15 points, while Johnson led Cloquet with 15 and classmate Adam Laine had 13 for a squad credited by their opposition.

     “We no way, shape or form were we looking past them,” said Holy Family Catholic Coach Matt Thuli of the Lumberjacks. “We’ve had a tough schedule, but they’re right in the mix with the teams we’ve played.”

     Cloquet, in the school’s eighth state tournament trip and first since 2000, cut the lead to 36-28 on a Laine free-throw with 14:25 remaining, but never got any closer to the Fire, which now advance to Thursday’s 2 p.m. semifinal against Austin (27-3) at the Target Center.

     “We duked it out; went punch-for-punch with them for a bit there — their length just got to us,” said Cloquet Coach Steve Battaglia afterward. “There are a lot of tears in here right now, but it’s better to cry here than in some gym up in Duluth during the first or second rounds.”

     Rounding out their careers were six seniors for the Lumberjacks, including Maxx Brenner, who after a teary-eyed hug in the locker room with his younger brother, Mason, noted his last game was unforgettable.

     “The lights, they were so bright,” he said. “This was something all of us will remember the rest of our lives.”

     “I’m done, but it was fun,” Johnson added. “It’s something every basketball kid always dreams about.”

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