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Lumberjacks gelling for post-season push

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CLOQUET—Standing outside their locker room following Tuesday’s game, Cloquet girls basketball Coach Jeff Ojanen gave Anna Fossen a well-earned fist bump.

Fossen earned a career-high 23 points in the Lumberjacks’ 70-60 loss to visiting Chisago Lakes Area. Despite defeat, it was perhaps Cloquet’s finest effort of the season just days before starting the Section 7AAA girls basketball tournament.

“I think it was the best game we’ve played all season — we gave it our all,” said Fossen, a 5-foot-7 right-handed guard, who was 9-of-13 from field, with four three-pointers and several hard-to-the-hoop drives leading to a wide smile afterward. “We can win any game if we put our heart into it.”

The fourth-seeded Lumberjacks (14-11) — who found out Wednesday morning that they will host fifth-seeded Hermantown in Friday’s first-round playoff opener — surely raised the heart rate of the section’s top-seeded Wildcats (19-6) Tuesday with an offensive outbreak that never faded.

Three teammates followed Fossen in double figures, as Kassidy Steen, Grace Sinisalo and Kaylee McMillen had 13, 12 and 12 points, respectively, in a game where Cloquet swapped seven ties and four lead changes with Chisago Lakes Area.

“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we pushed them,” Ojanen said. “I’m proud of the effort — the last week-and-a-half we’ve really stepped it up.”

When asked if it was their team’s top performance of the year, Steen didn’t waste time responding.

“By far,” said the 6-foot-1 sophomore center quickly.

The game’s other center, 6-foot-5 Chisago Lakes Area senior Bryanna Fernstrom, fielded a game-best 37 points and 19 rebounds, as the Iowa State University recruit recorded her 1,000th-plus career rebound and now has over 1,300 points.

Wildcats Coach Craig Walker was quick to point out that they could face Cloquet in an upcoming semifinal next week.

“They’re kind of scary,” said Walker, who addressed his assistant coaches on several occasions Tuesday to figure out how to slow the Lumberjacks. “We have some things to work on, but they’re athletic. Jeff has something good going on.”

Although enduring some downs this season, Ojanen noted his Cloquet team is “getting after it” now at practice, hinting that come the playoffs in March, numbers can be irrelevant.

“You never know what can happen if we get to the semis,” he said of a possible clash with Chisago Lakes Area again. “Hopefully we can get a rematch with the Wildcats.”

“We stayed with them,” Sinisalo said outside the locker room. “But now, our focus is on Hermantown.”