GIRLS BASKETBALL: Eskomos stopped in semifinals
In the end, the end of a long streak might be what the doctor ordered for Esko's girls basketball team.
Having played in eight straight Section 7AA finals through the years, Scott Antonutti's team was denied another appearance in the title game — and a return trip to state — in a 66-55 loss to Mesabi East on Wednesday, March 7.
"They've been hot," Antonutti said of the Giants, who went on to win the section championship to go to state. "Their guards have improved dramatically since Christmas."
Esko beat Mesabi East 81-54 during the regular season, but had no answer for Ava Hill. The Giants guard had 26 points as her team outscored the Eskomos 44-27 after halftime.
"We had a couple of defensive lapses and that was disappointing," Antonutti said. "The momentum really shifted, the snowball rolling downhill started to get bigger in their favor and we started thinking about previous plays."
Esko got 15 points from Macy Sunnarborg, 13 from Bridget Yellin, 11 from Kristy DeMuth and 10 from Hannah Stark. Esko finished 19-10 on the season.
But it's not reaching the section final that sticks in everyone's craw.
"We didn't seize the moment," Antonutti said. "Any time we don't make it (the section final), it's disappointing. It's good that the program is where it is, but I don't think the girls are content with the season."
And with a team graduating only one senior, Esko's players have plenty of thinking to do over the summer before reuniting for another run at state next winter.
"It's a motivator," Antonutti said. "Everyone else on the team gets another shot at a section final. We have to remember that feeling and have it inspire the players to get to the gym more, get more shots off, watch video and have it be something that helps you get better."
Still, 19-10 with one upperclassman isn't a bad record. The problem is that there are a lot of other young teams in the section, too.
"The section had a lot of parity this year," Antonutti said. "We had eight teams that could have come out of the playoffs and we were in that mix. There were a couple teams that lost some significant players, but most teams have their core group back. Next year's section should be even more competitive and harder to get out of."
The highly competitive section should be another motivator.
"I hope the players feel it's a challenge," Antonutti said. "Everyone but Mesabi East has the same feeling we do and are motivated in exactly the same way. What you do with that disappointment determines your season the next year."
"Next season starts tomorrow," he added. "I wish Mesabi East well and hope they represent the section well. I'm rooting for them this weekend, but then it's back to rooting for Esko."