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State Boys Basketball: Esko trails at halftime

MINNEAPOLIS -- When participating in the Minnesota state boys basketball tournament, the last time Litchfield failed to make it to the championship game, the sport was just becoming popular -- in 1918.

MINNEAPOLIS -- When participating in the Minnesota state boys basketball tournament, the last time Litchfield failed to make it to the championship game, the sport was just becoming popular -- in 1918.

The Dragons have made plenty of return trips since then and showed it Friday night, leading Esko 32-21 at halftime in a Class AA state semifinal at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Second-seeded Litchfield (25-5), which won three straight titles from 2000-2003 and lost to Plainview-Elgin-Millville in last year's final, has shown their experience early. Led by 1,000-plus-point scorers Zach Whitchurch and Zach Kinny -- with a game-leading 14 and 12 points, respectively -- the Dragons darted on a 17-0 run after Esko's Casey Staniger hit a left-wing three-pointer on the game's opening possession.

Litchfield has made six state appearances in the small central Minnesota school's history, including the past pair, as they look to face top-ranked Minnehaha Academy in tomorrow's 2 p.m. championship.

The Eskomos (27-4), making their third-ever state trip along with showings in 2003 and 1955, hope that doesn't happen.

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Keyed by junior scoring standouts Staniger, Kory Deadrick and Marc Peterson -- with a combined 220 three-pointers this winter -- Esko has looked jittery early on, but a Peterson triple before the first-half buzzer has given them life.

Deadrick -- averaging a double-double this season -- leads Esko with 10 points thus far, while Staniger and Peterson have added six and five points for the Polar League school seeking its first championship game with a comeback.

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