Boys Basketball Playoff Preview..News about Esko and other area teams
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ESKO – Battling a seasonal cold in the recent weeks, a now fully-recovered Marc Peterson said Monday there was no way he would miss this week’s boys basketball playoff run.
Peterson and top-seeded Esko ran into Wednesday’s Section 7AA postseason opener against Aitkin (when this edition of the Pine Journal went to press) at nearly full strength, surging past Peterson’s previous cold, as well as junior classmates’ Kory Deadrick and Casey Staniger’s cases of influenza.
In the case of Deadrick and Staniger, the pair of high-scorers didn’t even travel to a recent game at Cromwell-Wright, but rather were home in bed to rest, recover and, nowadays, replenish their effective shots.
The Eskomos (22-4) – winners of 12 of their past 13 games, including the Polar League title – have a shot at the state tournament again this season. A year ago, Esko was edged 81-73 in the finals by Braham, behind Tyler Vaughan’s ridiculous 53-point game for the title.
“We’re trying to forget about that,” longtime Esko Coach Mike Devney said during Monday evening’s practice. “Everything [Vaughan] put up went in. It was a freakish performance.”
Not quite as freakish, the Esko trio of Deadrick, Staniger and Peterson is also effective, averaging roughly 55 points – or nearly 75 percent – of the team’s scoring on a nightly basis.
Mix in starters Bobby Wright, Ben Hanson and quick-off-the-bench reserve Nate Johnson, and Esko is deep.
“We have some of the most depth in quite some time,” Devney said, “but we know when we have to have a basket, we are going to look towards Kory, Marc and Casey. They’re gym rats.”
Seeking State for the first time since 2003, Esko is focused.
“Ever since we lost that game against Braham last year, that’s been the goal for us,” Peterson added, “to get back there again.”
“It’s been our mission,” Deadrick added. “We spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing. Now we just have to play our game.”
“We’ve been playing well and have beaten some good teams lately,” he said. “We have to stay positive. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, league rival Moose Lake-Willow River (16-10) sits on the bracket’s opposite side.......
In Section 7AAA, Cloquet (17-9) has had a fine finish to the regular season heading into the playoffs, winning 12 of their last 14 games. Led by posts Adam Laine and Aaron Johnson, the Lumberjacks look like superb section contenders.
“We’re in a pretty spot,” said Coach Steve Battaglia, whose team opens Friday night hosting Zimmerman, a team Cloquet lost to in four overtimes earlier this season. “We’d like to get even.”
Section 7A looks pretty evenly matched with local teams Carlton, Cromwell-Wright, South Ridge and Wrenshall.
Trevontae Brown and Davonte Williamson lead Fond du Lac Ojibwe (17-7) – winners of 10 of 11 – who potentially could meet favorite Lakeview Christian Academy Saturday in Duluth.
“They think they can beat them,” said Coach Earl Otis. “We’re fast-paced, run-and-gun and will be excited if we get that opportunity.”
In Section 5A, Barnum (23-3) had a State opportunity last year, but lost on a buzzer-beater to Browerville. Guards Brandon Newman, Daniel Warpula and Zach Carlson will be key to another Bombers run.
“I really like my team,” longtime Coach Rich Newman said. “They don’t talk much, but just come to the gym always looking to get better.”