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Wrens defend jug, jolt Bulldogs

Wrenshall junior Jessie Ellerbe fights to keep the ball from Carlton junior Adam Ermatinger during Friday’s matchup between the Wrens and Bulldogs. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal1 / 4
Wrenshall side2 / 4
Carlton side3 / 4
The Little Brown Jug contest begins with the tip off between Eric Soderstrom of Carlton and Jared Kittel of Wrenshall. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal4 / 4

Ellerbe, an unselfish 5-foot-8 starting point guard, brought Wrenshall fans to their feet in applause when he leapt over nearby Carlton defenders and tapped in classmate Andrew Frank’s missed left-wing 3-point attempt before the buzzer rang, with the Wrens then leading 41-17 in a packed gymnasium.

“I didn’t expect that to go in,” admitted Ellerbe of his seemingly desperate right-handed swat at the loose ball — easily the game’s biggest highlight of the evening.

“It was unbelievable,” added senior Jared Kittel, whose defensive block on Carlton led to Ellerbe’s buzzer-beater.

Kittel, who had 15 points last week, was the first to hoist the jug — weighing nearly 30 pounds — which has traveled between the small communities since 1951, making for the most meaningful matchup of the winter for either school.

Played for in both boys and girls basketball — Carlton retained the girls’ jug last Thursday, winning 47-41 — the jug can only be won on the holder’s home court, while the winner keeps it for bragging rights the entire calendar year.

Over time, Carlton has claimed the jug on 42 occasions, while Wrenshall’s win last week was their 22nd time lifting up the longtime trophy overhead, among jubilation.

“It’s what we wait for — it’s the best, most important game of the year,” said Ellerbe. “It’s what our school does.”

“This is always the biggest one,” added Wrenshall junior Aaron Adkins, who scored a game-best 19 points and had four first-half 3-pointers. “We’re always pumped for it.”

Wrenshall won the jug back last year, 47-26, at Carlton.

“It meant a lot getting it back from Carlton at Carlton,” Kittel recalled, “but it’s even better at our home court.”

The veteran Wrens (6-2) were bettered by visiting South Ridge Tuesday and unbeaten Fond du Lac Ojibwe earlier. The young Bulldogs (0-5), with no seniors, are still winless.

“I didn’t expect to get blown out like we did, but Wrenshall deserves a lot of credit. They came out here for the jug a heck of a lot more fired up than we were and they went and got it,” said third-year Carlton Coach Adam Bailey outside the locker room. “We haven’t executed all year. We’re going back to the drawing board to find a way.”

“We just have to keep going harder in practice each day and improve,” added Carlton’s Cade Pierson, who had a team-high 8 points and a left-side second-half 3-pointer that broke a 23-0 Wrens run and a 16-minute Bulldogs drought.

A scary moment came when Pierson, a junior guard, dove for the ball during the first half, collided with a Wrenshall player’s shoe heel and lost an upper right tooth.

First-year Wrenshall Coach Troy Powers and his assistants delayed the game briefly to retrieve the tooth off the floor. Afterward, still without it, Pierson said he was OK.

Powers, who took over for the longtime Joel Swanson after assisting for four seasons, was the one in all smiles last week, taking iPhone photos with students, family and fans.

The 48-year-old Powers noted his team “is definitely capable of surprising people,” this winter, as “winning the jug game” is already checked off their season-long goals list.

“It was like we couldn’t do anything wrong,” said Powers, adding the game “is such a big deal,” within the two tiny schools. “Everything fell into place like it needed to.”

Just like Ellerbe’s tip-in, before the horn.

“It’s just an indication of the way the night went for us,” Powers said. “It was almost like he was playing volleyball.”


Barnum (2-1) blew past Polar League host rival Moose Lake-Willow River 74-53 last Friday. Brandon Newman netted 32 points for the Bombers.

Cloquet (5-0) continued its unbeaten start with a closer-than-wanted 47-45 win over Lake Superior Conference host Hermantown Tuesday. The Lumberjacks, who led 31-16 at halftime, held on with the help of Adam Laine’s 17 points.

Cromwell-Wright (1-6) was waxed by unblemished Fond du Lac Ojibwe 113-47 Monday in Cromwell. The Cardinals, losers of five consecutive since beating McGregor, were led by Austin Pfisthner’s 21 points.

Esko (6-1) erased visiting Duluth Denfeld 75-50 Tuesday, as the Class AA third-ranked Eskomos were carried by Kory Deadrick’s 24 points.

Fond du Lac Ojibwe (4-0) obliterated host Cromwell-Wright 113-47 Monday, as the unbeaten Ogichidaa were led by Jordan Diver’s 42 points. Diver, a sophomore guard, already has a dizzying 153 points this winter.

Moose Lake-Willow River (3-2) ran by visiting Proctor 78-73 Tuesday, where Charlie Adamczak’s 23 points propelled the Rebels four-player, double-figure scoring attack in a game when ML-WR was up 43-31 by the break.

South Ridge (5-1) relied on Kody Karppinen’s 16 points to key a quartet of double-digit Panthers scorers in a 66-61 win at Wrenshall Tuesday. South Ridge, winners of five straight, snapped the Wrens’ four-game streak.

FDLTCC (2-8) fell 86-81 to St. Cloud Tech Saturday afternoon on campus in Cloquet. The Thunder, with a recent victory over the University of Wisconsin Superior junior varsity, welcomed 15 points from Carlton’s Erik Adams.