Brown Jug stays in CarltonArea Boys Basketball Roundup
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
A nervous Adam Bailey stood on the sidelines Friday in the Carlton High School gym to coach his first-ever varsity boys basketball game.
It was an exciting game. A late surge by the Bulldogs helped Carlton retain the historic Brown Jug in a thrilling 50-38 Polar League win over rival Wrenshall before a raucous, standing-room-only crowd in Carlton.
Bailey looked nothing like a rookie, however, when he took a timeout midway through the second half when his Bulldogs’ 24-15 halftime advantage had dwindled to 35-32 with just over nine minutes left due to the Wrens’ pestering defensive zone trap.
“I just told the boys that someone needed to step up, get the ball up the court and make a big shot,” Bailey said of the timeout. “And in about 25 seconds, our lead went from three to nine.”
Following the quick break in play, Carlton junior guard Lane Empson centered a series of clutch plays, as the Bulldogs (1-0) scored the next nine points, including 15 of the game’s
“He hit three shots in a row,” said Wrenshall Coach Joel Swanson, “and that just broke our backs.”
Empson scored a team-leading 18 points for the Bulldogs and fellow junior guard Erik Adams added 12 in the season-opening win. The emotional victory allowed Carlton to hang on to the 60-year-old jug that travels between the small-town neighbors.
“The whole week before the game, everyone was talking about it at school,” said Carlton junior forward Kyle Gunderson, who scored eight points Friday. “With us and Wrenshall, there’s always that rivalry in every sport. If we lose to them in one sport, we always want to beat them in the next.”
Retaining the jug was the Bulldogs’ goal entering the pressure-packed
“We just knew what we had to do and went out and did it,” Gunderson said, holding on to the jug, which can only be played for on the home floor of the owner once per season. “It feels good to beat them. It’s just one of those games you’ll never forget.”
Nothing short of proud, Bailey wants his boys to move forward with the victory.
“I’m not taking anything away from the game,” Bailey said, “but we have 21 more games that we have to get ready for. Last week was such a great start that we can’t use up all of our emotion and excitement just yet. We have a whole season ahead of us.”
Swanson tipped his hat to Bailey.
“I think he got his name on that jug a little too early in his career,” Swanson jokingly said about Bailey in his first-ever game. “You have to give Carlton credit. They got us down early, did some little things well and out-hustled us.”
Junior guard Pat Gustafson led all scorers with 22 points for Wrenshall (0-1), while fellow junior guard Jack Dolter chipped in nine in defeat.
“Our boys were a little nervous, like a deer caught in the headlights,” continued Swanson, whose Wrens owned the jug five years straight before losing last winter and last week to the Bulldogs. “They put a lot of pressure on themselves. We’re working things out, but I think we’ll be OK. We’ll see Carlton again in February.”
In other area boys basketball news:
Cloquet (0-1) opened its season Tuesday night with a 63-48 loss at third-ranked Grand Rapids. Trailing by just two at the break, 34-32, Cloquet watched as the four-time section defending champion Thunderhawks took off late. Senior Zach Peterson scored a team-best 14 points for Cloquet, while sophomore Adam Laine added 12.
Esko (0-1) opened its season with a last-second loss, as Hermantown’s Spencer Johnson sank the game-winner with just five seconds left to lead the visiting Hawks to an entertaining 72-71 win Tuesday night. Esko senior guard Jackson Lindquist led all scorers with 25 points, while sophomore Marc Peterson and senior Jared Harms each had 14.
Fond du Lac Ojibwe (2-1) suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday in a 110-95 road loss to Nashwauk-Keewatin. Kello Brown led the Ogichidaa with 34 points. The high-flying senior has been the top-scorer along with sophomore Trevonte Brown in upset wins over Minnesota Transitions Charter to open the year and Silver Bay Monday.
Moose Lake-Willow River (1-0) began its season with a 73-43 road win at East Central last Friday. Caleb Koecher was one of 12 Rebels to score in the 30-point rout, as the senior forward notched a game-best 23 points.
Barnum will host Cromwell-Wright in each team’s opener Friday, Dec. 9.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (0-5) has remained with a goose egg at the college level, as the Thunder have lost to Vermilion, Riverland, Gogebic, Central Lakes and Fergus Falls. Despite a talented bunch, first-year coach Damien Paulson is still looking for his first collegiate win.