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Boys Basketball Roundup: Rebels, Szczyrbak overcome Bulldogs

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CARLTON—Fitting for Valentine’s Day that Moose Lake’s Ezra Szczyrbak had his sweetest basketball game yet.

Szczyrbak scored a season-best 23 points as the senior post player patrolled the paint in leading Moose Lake-Willow River past Polar League host Carlton 69-43 last Friday night.

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For Szczyrbak, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound center, his final basketball season has been a stressful one, as the senior spent several weeks deciding on where to play Division I college football next fall — eventually signing with Northern Iowa University — after suffering through about a month of mononucleosis beforehand.

Last week’s performance provided a much-needed lift.

“It felt really good,” said Szczyrbak, who had 11 field goals. “I’ve been really busy, but things are finally starting to come together. I hope to have a game like this every game.”

The Rebels (16-9) sure hope that’s the case, as last week Szczyrbak scored 12 first-half points — including a stretch of eight straight to give ML-WR their first lead at 15-13 — and even later tipped in Milan Dragacivich’s layup miss with one hand to help his team to a narrow 24-21 halftime advantage.

Szczyrbak sent in 11 more points in the second, counting ML-WR’s opening basket inside, as the Rebels never relinquished their lead on the bothersome Bulldogs (3-19), who controlled a majority of the game’s first 18 minutes.

“Our first half was excellent,” Carlton Coach Adam Bailey said of his senior-less team that has lost five straight contests and now 11 of their previous 12. “The tank was empty — the kids were gassed — but they still worked hard.”

“This was a huge step forward,” added Bulldogs junior Dominic Bennett, who had five points last week, adding with Tyler Ojibway’s 10 and Adam Ermatinger’s team-high 16 for a squad that Bennett explained continues to remain optimistic.

Optimism is also relevant with the Rebels, winners of four of their past six games, especially with Szczyrbak in stride.

“It’s such a joy to have him — I wish he was a junior,” said ML-WR Coach Neil Dickenson of his graduating senior stalwart. “He’s tough. You could see his strength tonight.”

“I wouldn’t have wanted to guard him,” Bailey added.

Rebels junior Charlie Adamczak, who had 15 points to follow Szczyrbak last week, said his good friend and opposite side defensive end on the football team will be sorely missed.

“He’s just a guy you want to be around,” said Adamczak outside the locker room afterward. “I love playing with Ezra.”

Szczyrbak agreed, noting he never planned to forego basketball, even as he prepares to take his football career to the next level.

“The Rebel family continues from sport to sport,” he said. “I owed it to my teammates. I wasn’t letting anyone down.”


Area Roundup

Barnum (22-2) bested Polar League visitor Moose Lake-Willow River 87-78 Tuesday, as the Bombers — unbeaten over the last 12 days — disposed of the rival Rebels for already a second time this season.

Cloquet (19-4) carded a 90-72 Lake Superior Conference victory over visiting Duluth Marshall Tuesday, as the Lumberjacks — playing for conference title implications Wednesday at Ashland as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press — have currently won seven of their past eight games.

Cromwell-Wright (7-17) worked past Carlton 69-52 Tuesday, as the Polar League visiting Cardinals cruised to their second victory over the Bulldogs this season, including a third overall win in four tries.

Esko (21-3) eased past Proctor 71-58 Tuesday on the road, as the Eskomos, ranked No. 1 in Class AA,  earned their eighth consecutive win, as they haven't now lost for 31 consecutive days.

Fond du Lac Ojibwe (20-3) overturned visiting Bigfork 89-72 Tuesday at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, as the state's highest-scoring Ogichidaa — 90.8 points per game — won their sixth game in a row, away from their gymnasium and its leaking roof, according to Coach Earl Otis.

South Ridge (20-3) rolled by Mountain Iron-Buhl 68-54 Tuesday, as the visiting Panthers provided their 13th straight win, ending their regular season schedule on a 40-plus-day unbeaten streak.

Wrenshall (11-11) was engulfed by Class A's ninth-ranked Ely 71-56 Monday on the road, as the Wrens were beaten on top of last Friday's homecoming defeat against neighboring Cromwell-Wright.

FDLTCC (6-18) fell twice last weekend, including an 81-77 double-overtime setback to Minnesota College Athletic Conference foe Northland last Friday, as well as an 82-66 loss to Itasca Saturday, both on campus in Cloquet. The Thunder — losers of their last five affairs —  conclude their regular season schedule Saturday when they travel to face Rainy River in International Falls.