Esko edges Mora, moves to stateMoments after hitting the shot of a lifetime and receiving his championship medal, perhaps the only thing better for Jaxson Turner was the nylon net draped around his neck.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH — Moments after hitting the shot of a lifetime and receiving his championship medal, perhaps the only thing better for Jaxson Turner was the nylon net draped around his neck.
Turner’s three-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer elevated Esko past Mora 64-63 in a thrilling Section 7AA final Saturday night at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Romano Gymnasium, sending the Eskomos to this week’s Minnesota boys basketball state tournament for the first time in 10 years.
In their program’s third-ever state trip, unseeded Esko (26-4) entered a Class AA quarterfinal with third-rated Hayfield (22-7) Wednesday night as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press.
Saturday, trailing 63-60 in the waning seconds, Esko teammate Casey Staniger, who had 25 points, made his first free-throw attempt, before intentionally missing his second. The rebound then deflected off of a pair of Mustangs with 1.1 seconds left, and set up a Staniger inbounds pass to Turner — followed by pandemonium.
For Turner, a freshman, it was his only shot of the game.
“This is probably the best moment of my whole life,” said Turner. “This is the biggest dream come true — for all of us.”
Esko Coach Mike Devney said the play wasn’t for Turner, but rather the team’s tallest threat, Kory Deadrick, inside the paint.
“All five guys were in the lane,” Devney said of Mora’s defense. “Casey is such a good passer; he delivered the ball to a guy who stepped up. It takes some guts for a freshman to hit that shot, but Jaxson got a good look and knocked ’er down.”
“We’ve been working towards [getting to State] since fifth grade,” added Esko junior Marc Peterson, who scored 20 points. “All of the time and effort we’ve put in makes this feel so great.”
Devney, who stormed the court and was jumping up and down uncontrollably with players, fans and students in celebration afterward, said the only match to Saturday’s heroics was coaching Carlton past Barnesville in a 1999 state quarterfinal.
“It’s an hour later and I still can’t believe what happened,” Devney said after his team cut down the nets. “Some of my best teams have been my closest teams. All of these guys are friends on and off the court, and are so happy for each other.”
Mora, which came from behind to beat Esko in January, trailed 26-22 at halftime and by as many as 10 later on. Sam Johnson’s game-best 33 points — including 21 in the second half — led the Mustangs (24-6) back, but it wasn’t quite enough.
“They did everything they could do, played as hard as we could play, it just didn’t go our way,” a teary Mora Coach Jamie Wright said. “It’s a tough way to lose a game.”
For Esko, and especially Turner, it was a memorable way to win.
“It took a miracle shot,” Staniger said, “but we got it done.”
“We’ll probably talk about this forever,” said Turner’s older sister Claudia, a basketball player herself, who was cheering in the front row. “All I wanted to do was just give him a hug. I’m pretty sure I was the first one on the court.”