Boys Basketball Roundup: Wrens fly past CardinalsThe Wrenshall boys basketball team is off to one of its hottest starts in recent years. Writer Tyler Korby looks at the Wrenshall vs Cromwell game and rounds up other area school basketball teams.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Winning the first pair of basketball games this winter season, Wrenshall is off to one of its hottest starts in recent years.
Junior Jared Kittel scored a game-best 26 points, including a perfect 10-for-10 shooting performance from the field in the opening half Monday evening, as he guided the Wrens to a 63-54 victory over Cromwell-Wright in a Polar League boys basketball affair in Wrenshall.
The win equaled the Wrens’ victory totals for the previous two years combined, while their season-opening 53-37 win over Carlton last week snapped a previous 30-game conference losing streak.
“We have some very dedicated kids on this team who have been committed, stuck with it and are now working hard and playing as a team,” said 19th-year Wrenshall Coach Joel Swanson. “We were able to outlast [Cromwell-Wright] tonight. Kittel was a key for us. What a nice night. That kid can score.”
“I’ve never had a game like tonight, that’s the best I’ve ever done,” said Kittel, who was 10-for-12 shooting, never missing any of his six free throws. “I was feeling pretty good, but we all work and play well together. We have a lot of chemistry.”
The Wrens (2-0) worked their chemistry to a quick advantage and a 43-22 halftime lead, scoring the final 15 points of the frame to pull away. The Cardinals (0-2) struggled to shoot all evening, yet climbed within half a dozen late, but never any closer.
“You have to give Wrenshall credit, they came out with a lot of energy and have some talent,” said Cromwell-Wright Coach Bill Pocernich, in his 19th season. “Their kids have come back with a lot of confidence and are playing well. They outplayed us tonight.”
Wrenshall’s top-returning scorer is senior Pat Gustafson, while classmates Matt O’Connor and Derek Duncan – recovered from Guillain-Barré Syndrome – and sophomore Jessie Ellerbe all contribute.
Kittel, meanwhile, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound forward with versatility, has the skills to score a lot and is difficult to defend.
“He can post up, and step outside and hit shots, too,” said Gustafson, who scored 18 points Monday. “He can do just about everything on the court. He’s a really good basketball player. We played a lot of pickup games at the school’s playground this summer – I’m lucky I didn’t have to guard him too much.”
“Basketball is my favorite sport, hands down,” said the right-handed Kittel, who began playing in elementary school like his mother, Colleen, and younger freshman sister, Delaney. “The last two seasons have been tough, but it’s nice to get some wins again.”
Kittel and Gustafson have paced the unblemished Wrens in scoring in both games, while the winless Cardinals were led Monday by Jared Hutar and Hunter Rauvola’s 16 points apiece.
Cromwell-Wright lost its opener to rival Barnum last week.
“We turned the ball over too much and it was a battle all night to score,” Pocernich said Monday. “We dug ourselves a hole, kept fighting and came back, but it was just too much to overcome.”
Barnum (3-0) has yet to lose on the hardwood, with players sharp-shooting their way to three wins in as many attempts. Already this year, the Bombers have beaten East Central, Cromwell-Wright and Pillager.
Carlton (1-3) has dropped three of its opening four affairs, including a 60-47 loss to neighboring South Ridge Tuesday in Carlton. The Bulldogs’ only victory thus far is over Two Harbors.
Cloquet (0-2) has had a tough time in its first two tries, falling down the stretch to 10th-ranked Grand Rapids, and losing a wild 80-79 quadruple overtime game at Zimmerman last Friday night.
Esko (2-1) dropped its first game of the year at pesky Hermantown, yet routed Silver Bay and then blitzed host Duluth Marshall 85-46 Tuesday evening in their latest competition.
Fond du Lac Ojibwe (2-1) opened their season with a loss to Nashwauk-Keewatin, but eclipsed the century mark in a 100-64 win over visiting Minnesota Transitions Charter Saturday in Cloquet, as well as a 103-52 drubbing of Home School in Poplar, Wis., Tuesday.
Moose Lake-Willow River (1-0) started late due to the Prep Bowl, yet snuck by Virginia 56-49 Tuesday in their home-opener.
South Ridge (3-1) fell first at Cook County to begin their season, but has won three in a row, including a 60-47 decision at Carlton Tuesday.
FDLTCC (3-7) has struggled lately, losing six straight since rolling by Rainy