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Girls Basketball Roundup: Eskomos ease by Mercs, in conference battle

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ESKO—Although just 15 years old, Ava Gonsorowski has already played basketball twice at the Target Center.

The professional arena in downtown Minneapolis isn’t easy to get to, much like the Eskomos’ freshman starting guard who has helped lead her team to the top of the Polar League with last Thursday night’s 73-49 victory over visiting McGregor.

The 5-foot-3 Gonsorowski, who scored 13 points last week, is a part of a freshmen class that — as fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders — have been some of the busiest and most successful youth girls players in Minnesota and the surrounding states.

Last year in eighth grade, Gonsorowski and her teammates lost to Roseau, Minn. for the Pacesetter Great Four-State (also including Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota) Youth Basketball championships at the Target Center. Playing a year earlier on the home court of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, they were runners-up behind Rapid City, S.D.  

Gonsorowski said the last several springs and summers have been busy, but beneficial in her class’ move up to varsity.

“We’ve played over 200 games leading up to this,” said Gonsorowski, who was coached by her father, Kelly, as well as classmate Judy Wagemaker and Karlie Kulas’ dads until this high school winter. “We’ve spent a lot of weekends together. We know each other really well, both on and off the court.”

That was evident last week, as the Eskomos (18-4) exploded on a 15-1 run to begin a game between a pair of conference unbeatens, once up 30-6 and by 19 come halftime.

The 18-4 Mercuries — which had previously won 10 straight games — climbed within nine points at 46-37 early in the second, but a pair of Kailee Katt and Wagemaker two-point goals forced McGregor Coach Kris Rinta to take his second timeout.

His senior-laden team never got any closer.

“We had an absolutely horrendous start,” Rinta said. “I’ve never been so disappointed — it’s no reflection of our team.”

“I don’t know what to say,” said a misty-eyed senior Abby Hawkinson, after the 2,083-plus-point scorer was held to only two free-throws and zero field goals throughout the evening.

Perhaps that’s because the Eskomos, also led by 13 points from Ashley Bergerson, used a widespread team effort, including eight scorers, for a 41st straight league win.

Fellow freshmen Kulas and Mandi Dincau, are included in the list of contributers.

“Whether it’s 20 minutes or three minutes, they’ve helped,” Esko Coach Scott Antonutti said of his quartet of ninth-graders.

“They execute; they have what it takes,” Bergerson added.

Even if — due to unavailability — this year’s state tournament won’t be stopping at the Target Center for the first time since 2007.

Area Roundup

Barnum (14-6) bettered by Polar League visitor Two Harbors 62-35 last Thursday, as the Bombers — victors of three games in a row — have won four of their previous five attempts.

Carlton (4-16) couldn't keep at host Cromwell-Wright in a 74-27 defeat Monday, marking the Bulldogs' second setback to their Polar League foes this season, including a fifth loss in six overall tries.

Cloquet (13-9) could only score 10 first-half points in Tuesday's 51-26 defeat to rival Duluth East, as the visiting Lumberjacks have now lost back-to-back contests over the last four days.

Cromwell-Wright (12-8) waxed Polar League visitor Carlton 74-27 Monday, as the up-and-down Cardinals coasted to a second win over the Bulldogs this winter, regaining their Section 7A balance.

Fond du Lac Ojibwe (8-2) obliterated Faith Christian 83-45 last Thursday in Cloquet, as the Ogichidaa — winners of four straight games — avenged an earlier season double-digit road loss Dec. 20.

Moose Lake-Willow River (17-5) ripped by South Ridge 58-42 Monday in Culver, as the Rebels — on a current three-game winning stride — have been on top in five of their previous seven chances.

South Ridge (12-10) ran by Two Harbors 67-43 Tuesday over on the North Shore, as the visiting Panthers propelled past their previous three-game, week-long losing stretch in ease.

Wrenshall (1-19) was beaten for a 14th straight time this season, as the Wrens' 63-32 lost to Ely on the road Monday marked 66 days since their lone victory over Lakeview Christian Academy Dec. 16.