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Esko wins it all

MINNEAPOLIS — With several 1,000-plus-point scorers on their roster, it’s obvious the Esko boys basketball team can overwhelm opponents with offense.

But if they wanted to win their school’s first-ever state championship on Saturday, it was going to take defense.

The Eskomos took control defensively and also took home that state championship after beating Annandale 60-41 in the Class AA state boys basketball title game Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

In a game pitting the same two teams that played against each other in last year's third-place contest — one the Cardinals won 59-58 — the Eskomos held a 22-18 halftime advantage Saturday after a Casey Staniger basket gave Esko a 13-12 lead that they never relinqiuished.

Staniger and fellow one grand-plus point-producing seniors Marc Peterson and Kory Deadrick — all named to the all-tournament team afterward —provided the bulk of the offense in a well-balanced attack, as Peterson had a game-high 16 points, followed by Deadrick and Staniger with 14 and 13, respectively.

Yet, it was the second-seeded Eskomos' court-stretching defense — holding No. 3 Annandale (25-7) to just 36.6-percent shooting from the field and 22.2-percent beyond the arc — that was most vital for victory.

The victory was the 16th straight for Esko (29-3), which becomes the first Northeastern Minnesota boys basketball team to win it all since Class A Chisholm did in 1991, and the first immediate Duluth-area squad to be the state's best since Duluth Central claimed the Class AA crown in 1979.

A throng of Eskomos' faithful stuck around afterward to congratulate and celebrate with their town's team that displayed —on the state's brightest stage — the old winning cliche.

Defense wins championships.