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Eskomo girls take third at state with total team effort

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MINNEAPOLIS—After his Eskomos stunned No. 3 New London-Spicer in a Class AA state girls basketball quarterfinal last Wednesday, a proud Coach Scott Antonutti said it was the most excited he’d ever seen his girls for a win.

Winning their final game, a 53-44 victory over No. 4 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Saturday, Esko excited everyone when they took third place, a best-ever finish for any Esko girls basketball team in the small school’s 88-year history.

Yet, it was last week’s historic 39-35 upset of the Wildcats — a state title team in 1997 and 2002 making its 15th appearance and averaging about 70 points per game under Minnesota’s all-time winningest coach, Mike Dreier — where unseeded Esko executed a perfect plan and surprised everyone.

Without a shot clock in Minnesota high school basketball, the Esko girls — like their boys — exhibited patience and persistence, as they worked the ball around the floor, passing until the perfect shot presented itself, pestering the Wildcats (24-6)  and even leading their student section to cheers of "boring, boring."

The Eskomos were anything but boring. Rather they were efficient, exploding to leads of 11-2, 13-4 and 16-4 in executing their game plan to a 'T.'

"It wasn't a stall, but we wanted to have long possessions and get a good shot at the end," Esko Coach Scott Antonutti said afterward. "The girls did it perfectly."

Smiles circulated the Mariucci Arena tunnels afterward, as just four days following their boys first-ever state title, the under-the-radar Esko girls got their time to shine, too.

“We were pretty psyched,” junior Ashley Bergerson said. “To go in as underdogs and prove everyone wrong was cool.”

“A lot of people doubted us,” added senior Kailee Katt. “But we came to State for a reason and wanted to make a statement. We didn’t just want to have a participant banner.”

Esko (27-6) had a banner season to say the least, as their 10th overall state appearance was their first since 2007, while their 27 wins tied the school record with that same ’07 squad.

The only squad to top the Eskomos last week was eventual runner-up Kenyon-Wanamingo in a 60-36 semifinal on Friday that got out of hand in the second half, but didn’t slow Bailey Mudek from diving around the Williams Arena floor.

“It was a surreal environment,” said Mudek, a junior and one of several who will return to the young Eskomos next season.

Mudek scored a season-high four 3-pointers and 16 points against the Lakers in the AA third-place game Saturday, while Katt collected 11 points on several triples and freshman Ava Gonsorowski added 11, including nine on free throws, in another well-balanced win.

“It’s one person one game, one person the next,” said Katt. “It gave us an advantage. It’s very hard to scout us.”

“It’s a tough team to deal with,” said Kenyon-Wanamingo Coach Brent Lurken. “They’re a team to be reckoned with down the road. Teams will deal with Esko for years to come.”

Senior Erika Shady said her final year of basketball was an incredible experience with her team, before visiting South Dakota State University the next day, with her newest medal.

“I wore it all the way to South Dakota,” Shady admitted.