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No. 1 Eskomos edged by larger Lakers

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 DULUTH—When Prior Lake’s Nick Vanek walked out of the lane during a first-half free-throw attempt, the Lakers were given a loss-of-shot penalty for the senior’s wrong doing.

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Not much else went wrong with the Twin Cities’ program.

Early effectiveness centered Class AAAA southwestern suburb Prior Lake past Class AA’s top-ranked Esko 71-59 as a part of the first-ever Martin Luther King, Jr. Classic on Monday afternoon at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth.

Despite Vanek’s uncommon violation in the game’s first five minutes — admitted as a “coach’s mistake” afterward — the Lakers scored 18 of the opening 22 points and later held off the sharp-shooting Eskomos in the day’s fourth affair.

“That’s definitely the most talented team we have played so far — those guys are legitimate,” said Esko Coach Mike Devney of Prior Lake after the game. “We hung in there, competed, fought and had a couple of shots.”

Despite sinking the contest’s first shot, Eskomo senior standout Kory Deadrick said he and his teammates “came out a little slow” Monday, en route to trailing 33-26 by halftime.

Nip-and-tuck throughout most of the second session, Esko (13-3) eased within three points, 51-48, on a Casey Staniger 3-pointer with eight minutes to go, never taking the lead but also not ever going away.

“They’re battlers, they don’t quit,” said Lakers Coach Dan Rubischko. “They’re a good team.”

Prior Lake teamed on the back of center Connor Bair, who had a game-best 26 points — three of which came when the athletic junior spun the ball into the hoop amidst body contact and then added a free throw to make it 63-51 with 1:59 left.

“He killed us,” said Devney of the 6-foot-5, quick-footed and soft-handed Bair. “We had no answer for him.”

In addition to Bair, the 11-5 Lakers landed several double-digit scorers, including North Dakota State commit Jon Sobaski with 14. The Eskomos revolved around Deadrick’s 24 and Staniger, Marc Peterson and Jaxson Turner’s 15, 10 and 10 points, respectively.

Esko has now lost two straight games — including Saturday’s 61-54 setback to Crosby-Ironton — yet Devney said Monday’s loss will help, as did Deadrick in the lobby.

“Any time you have a chance against a four-A team, any two-A school would want that,” an optimistic Deadrick said.

“They can light it up,” added Rubischko of the No. 1 Eskomos, which placed fourth at last year’s state tournament.

And if they return, does Rubischko think they can win it?

“Yes, I do,” he said without hesitation.

“I agree with coach,” added Bair. “They could compete with just about any of the teams that we play.”