Lumberjacks lose lead to Hibbing, open postseason play FridayThe Jacks let a lead slip away in last Friday's game against Hibbing.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Standing outside the locker room last week, Dillon Johnson was the first to confess he and his Cloquet basketball teammates were feeling great at halftime. An hour later, though, things had changed.
Most notably, the scoreboard.
Charging into the locker rooms with a slim advantage, the Lumberjacks soon watched their lead slip into a 51-44 loss to Hibbing last Friday evening on Senior Night at Cloquet High School.
“At the half, we felt great,” said Johnson, a sophomore guard, of the 27-23 lead entering the break. “Then we came out and weren’t smart or disciplined, and we just failed to execute.”
Failing to execute has tormented Cloquet (9-17) throughout most of the season, especially following halftime. A strong opening-half team, the ensuing game action after the horn has been problematic for a Lumberjack squad that has only won two games in more than a month.
“We can play anybody for a half,” Cloquet Coach Steve Battaglia said. “But you’re not going to beat anybody on our schedule by scoring 44 points like we did tonight. Scoring has just been difficult for us here.”
For the record, the recently struggling Lumberjacks scored only 17 points in the last 18 minutes against Hibbing last week, while they shot a dismal 22 percent from the field and went scoreless for eight-plus minutes.
“Scoring points is a struggle and we’re just inconsistent,” continued Battaglia. “Tonight [Hibbing] just made the plays at the end and we didn’t.”
During the Lumberjacks’ drought in the second half, Hibbing zipped on a 9-0 run to go ahead. Following a couple baskets and draining all of their free throws late, the Bluejackets never let Cloquet back in.
“Hibbing made a nice comeback there,” Johnson said. “They were playing pretty good defense and were disciplined on offense. We just weren’t.”
Bluejackets’ Coach Joel McDonald said they’ve been there before, though.
“A ton of times,” McDonald said. “We’ve had trouble closing games out all season long. I give Cloquet credit, though, they hung in there. It’s just Cloquet had the life in the first half and we got it in the second.”
Facing an opponent that beat them earlier this winter already, Lumberjack sophomore center Adam Laine said their collapse last week was tough to take.
“We wanted this one, we just couldn’t hit a shot,” said the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Laine. “We were confident, we just really need to execute better.”
Six-foot-2, 190-pound Cloquet senior forward Trent Moe agreed.
“It was the seniors’ last game at home, so it was a little sour tasting, obviously to lose it,” he said, “but we had some good looks. They just didn’t go through. We always keep it close, but tonight we fell short. That’s frustrating.”
Moe and Laine led the Lumberjacks with a dozen points each, while Johnson added nine in Cloquet’s seventh loss in their previous 10 games.
Laine said there is no time to hang their heads.
“We have to rebound quickly and get ready for Denfeld,” he said. “We think we can beat them. Now it’s the playoffs, I consider it a fresh start.”
The late-struggling Lumberjacks pulled the seventh seed in the Section 7AAA field and will travel to No. 2 Duluth Denfeld to open play Friday at 7 p.m. Cloquet has fallen to the Hunters twice this season, by scores of 84-35 and 76-48.
Yet, in March, it’s anyone’s game.
“They call it March Madness for a reason,” Battaglia said. “Besides the rainy day spring baseball game, basketball is one of the biggest upset sports. So our boys shouldn’t count themselves out now. They have battled all season long and, this time of year, if we put a full game together, we’ll see what happens. There’s no better time than now.”
Having kicked the game-winning field goal for the same seventh-seeded Cloquet football team to get to last fall’s section championship, Moe is a believer.
“Upsets can happen,” he said. “And in the playoffs is where they matter most. We can beat anybody we want to; we just have to play with that mentality.”
Including when they enter the locker room – and when they leave.