Déjà Vu: Braham bests Esko againThe Pine Journal's take on last Thursday's game when the Braham Bombers needed double overtime to win Section 7AA final over the Esko Eskomos.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Although he won’t have to game plan against them anymore this season, Braham girls basketball Coach Tim Malone is still using Esko as a practice model to prepare his Bombers for their fourth consecutive state tournament this week.
“We have all of the respect in the world for Esko and their program,” Malone said Tuesday. “We always have, and always will.”
Perhaps that’s because the Eskomos have pushed the Bombers as far as anyone over the last few seasons. And none further than last Thursday.
Following regulation, superstar guard Rebekah Dahlman took over, as the Braham junior carried the third state-ranked Bombers past Esko 68-58 in double overtime in the Section 7AA championship before around 1,200 spectators last Thursday night at Romano Gymnasium on the campus of UMD.
Dahlman hit a deep three-pointer to send the game into a second overtime, before scoring all 12 of Braham’s points after that. En route to setting the state’s all-time single-season scoring record, Dahlman scored 20 of her game-best 37 points following regulation, literally taking the game over for the Bombers (29-1).
“You have to defend her everywhere,” Esko Coach Scott Antonutti said of Dahlman, this season’s Gatorade Minnesota Girls Basketball Player of the Year. “If she has a weakness, I’d like to know it. But I don’t think anyone does.”
“She’s a gym rat in every sense of the word,” Malone added of his centerpiece, who is currently just 22 points shy of Taylor Hill’s career-best record of 3,888 points – with a year left to play. “She’s a big-time player, but we felt really fortunate to get out of there with a win. All the credit goes to Esko.”
The Eskomos (26-4) have lost to Braham in the section final three straight seasons, fighting hard on every occasion. Before last week’s extra-session thriller, Esko fell to the Bombers 56-54 Jan. 3 in another close bout.
“Even though we have lost to them, we’ve given them battles,” Esko junior Marisa Shady said. “It’s a good rivalry between us. The players enjoy playing it and the fans enjoy watching it. Unfortunately we just came up a little short.”
That’s not uncommon against the Bombers. The defending Class AA champions’ only loss has been to Class AAAA Irondale this season, as Braham has rattled off 20 straight wins and is now looking to defend their state crown.
Esko junior Savanna Trapp likes Braham’s chances.
“I’m confident they’ll win it all again this season,” said the 6-foot-9 center. “They’re a very good basketball team. And we gave them all we had.”
“Our girls were confident going in and confident throughout. I don’t think they were ever afraid,” Antonutti added. “Some teams may get a little intimidated just by seeing the name Braham, but not our girls.”
Trapp was held well below her season average, scoring just nine points and fouling out midway through the first overtime, while Shady led the Eskomos with 23 and Megan Reuer collected a dozen as sparkplug reserve.
Looking past statistics, Trapp was the first to admit there was much more to their season than just their year-ending loss last week.
“You can’t judge a team on just one game,” she said. “We won the [Polar League], had a great record and everyone really has gotten better this year.”
“We had a very impressive season,” added Antonutti. “I think we proved that we can play against just about anybody. I told the girls I was proud of them.”
Even after the stinging defeat, Antonutti remained positive.
“Our girls battled tonight, as they have all season, and I was very pleased of our perseverance once again,” he said. “We never backed down and we were in the game the whole way, but unfortunately came up short in the end.
“I have a great job,” he continued. “The girls we have here are great. They are great athletes, great students and just great all-around kids in general.”
Shady said a third loss just one step from state hurt, yet, while shaking hands with Dahlman afterward, noted both teams have a lot of respect for one another.
“It’s sad we don’t get to go to state, but we’ll be watching, knowing it could have easily been us,” she said. “Braham always pushes us and I’d like to think that we push them, too. We respect them and wish them luck down there.”
Malone and his girls would surely do the same.