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Bulldog boys bring Brown Jug back home

Carlton head coach Jeswa Harris hoists the Brown Jug over his head as the players celebrate around him. Matthew Moses/news@pinejournal.com 1 / 5
Carlton junior Sam Macor takes the ball to the basket as Wrenshall sophomores Tyler Kelley and Nick Mattson look for a rebound. Matthew Moses/news@pinejournal.com 2 / 5
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WRENSHALL—A motivational speaker from time to time during his profession, 40-year-old Jeswa Harris has given plenty of uplifting speeches throughout his lifetime.

Yet, the first-year Carlton boys basketball coach needed none of that Friday night.

The Bulldogs were plenty fired up for their annual meeting with neighboring host Wrenshall, as the pair of tiny Polar League schools squared off for the historic Brown Jug and saw Carlton bring home the coveted memento for the first time since 2012, with a lopsided 81-57 win before a packed gym.

The 24-point Carlton victory was never really a contest. The Bulldogs had their way early, led 35-20 by halftime and never looked back before hoisting the near 30-pound rivalry trophy high in the air with ear-to-ear smiles and loud team-and-student section chants of “jug, jug, jug.”

“This is one of the biggest moments we have,” said Carlton junior Sam Macor after the 6-foot-3, 255-pound center kissed the jug that has been traveling between the two schools since 1951. “To watch it since second or third grade and to finally be playing in it, it’s great. [It’s my] first jug.”

The same holds true for Harris, in his inaugural season with the Bulldogs. As an integration specialist at Ordean East Middle School in Duluth, helping work with at-risk youth, Harris plays a positive role in many students’ lives.

Previously coaching girls basketball at Duluth East with his brother and varsity coach, Joaquim, Harris is happy at Carlton. That was evident last week, as he spent time on the court after the game, taking cellphone photos with plenty of jug-crazed others following an event only played for once per year on the owner’s home court. His smile never disappeared.

“The first question the parents asked in my first meeting was ‘Are you going to win the jug game?’” Harris chuckled. “Everybody let me know right away what was important.

“And what can I say? The jug is back in Carlton,” continued Harris. “I have just been blessed with a great group of young guys who are unselfish and are buying in.”

The night before, Harris was at the girls’ jug game, in which host Carlton kept their smaller five-pound jug trophy with a 57-50 win. Beforehand, Harris gave a quick pregame speech, while afterward, he headed a “jug” chant.

“It couldn’t be a better fit for me here,” Harris said.

Harris’ well-balanced five-win group got 11 players in the box score against Wrenshall, led by junior Tyler Ojibway’s game-high 21 points. Sophomore Jackson Mickle added 12, while sophomores Matthew Hey and Macor had 11.

Winless Wrenshall, meanwhile, is beyond young. They don’t have a single senior and 11 of their 15 rostered players are underclassmen. First-year coach Jon Bartczak is a former Wren and played in the jug game several years back. He reminded his youthful team after the game that their future is bright.

“I was a sophomore when we lost the jug at Carlton,” he said. “I told them to remember this and let it be a motivator.”

Eighth-grader Randy Wimmer’s 11 points were a team-best for Wrenshall, followed by freshman Eli Krisak’s 10.

Still, the biggest high of the night was Carlton bringing the jug home, just five miles down the road. For senior Efren Morales-Cruz, who had 7 points, it was his fifth and final jug game.

“I’ve been in a couple,” he said. “It’s one to remember.”

KEYNOTES BY KORBY:

  • Wrenshall students wore black and orange T-shirts last Friday, titled “Losing is not an option” with #Team Kayla on the back in support of Wrenshall student Kayla Hill, who is suffering from leukemia. They also wore orange ribbons.

  • Wrenshall sophomore Tyler Kelley scored eight points last week — with a broken left wrist. He’s currently wearing a black cast and has surgery scheduled for Friday in Duluth.

“I had to play,” Kelley said after. “You can’t miss it.”

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