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Eskomos outrun ’Jacks in opener

Esko senior Ava Gonsorowski grabs a rebound in front of Cloquet sophomore Vanna Kelley during Tuesday night's basketball game. The Eskomos notched a 59-41 win over the Lumberjacks. Dave Harwig/ 1 / 3
Cloquet sophomore Allie Wojtysiak shoots over Esko senior Karlie Kulas during Tuesday night's basketball game. Dave Harwig/ 2 / 3
Esko senior Selena Shady scores two of her 12 points during Tuesday's game in Cloquet. Dave Harwig/ 3 / 3

It’s always exciting to kick off a new season in any sport. It is even more exciting when that season opens with next door neighbors playing for bragging rights. Such was the case on Tuesday in Cloquet when the Lumberjacks hosted the Eskomos in girls basketball on a night that saw Esko come away with a 59-41 victory.

Esko started strong in the first half and used a pressure defense to create turnovers as they pulled out to a 34-20 halftime lead.

“We created some scoring opportunities in the first half with our full court pressure,” said Esko coach Scott Antonutti. “We also hit three of the four 3-pointers we made on the night in the first half so that helped us get off to a good start.”

Leading the Esko charge was point guard Ava Gonsorowski, who finished with 20 points and who also caused problems for the Cloquet defense by attacking the basket.

“They pressed us well and made turnovers happen and they were able to capitalize on those turnovers,” said Cloquet coach Heather Young. “Their point guard (Gonsorowski) was just outstanding at driving in and either dishing or finishing the play and drawing a foul. We were able to adjust at times, but we were not always quick enough to stop it or to remember our weak side help.”

Both teams featured quick players and the ’Jacks had a size advantage, but the overall athleticism of the Eskomos began to take its toll as the game wore on.

“We knew they were quick, that they anticipate well and they were athletic,” Young said. “Esko plays tough defense and they can finish it offensively. I am glad we opened the season with them because it will only help us in the long run.”

After staking themselves to a 14-point halftime lead, the Eskomos saw the Lumberjacks fight back to within six points late in the second half as Cloquet cut the gap. Unfortunately for Cloquet, the Eskomos hit the accelerator and went on a 14-2 run to finish the game.

Joining Gonsorowski in the scoring column for the Eskomos were Selena Shady with 12 points and Karlie Kulas with six points. Mac Holland, Mandi Dincau and Eve Turner all recorded five points, while both Macy Sunnarborg and Kaitlyn Bergerson finished with three points on the night. However, the main catalyst for the Esko offense was undoubtedly Gonsorowski.

“There is never enough good things I can say about her,” said Antonutti. “She had a great stat line with 7-for-12 shooting, 5-for-8 from the free-throw line, two rebounds, four assists and she had five steals and that is impressive for anyone. What doesn’t appear is the energy, leadership and steadiness. All our seniors are good at not pausing or hesitating, but there will be an occasional lapse. Ava rarely will have a lapse.”

On the Cloquet side of the ball, the ’Jacks got a solid 14-point effort from Allie Wojtysiak, the only Lumberjack in double-digit scoring.

“Allie played well for us and she is such an all around good player,” Young said. “She can post up, bring the ball down the floor and rebound — we are fortunate to have her.”

Also scoring for Cloquet were Carmen Foss with nine points and Nicole Blatchford chipping in with six points. Vanna Kelley added five points, Olivia Diver scored three points, and Faith Carlson and Kendra Kelley each had two.

While the Eskomos knew a bit more about what they had coming into the season as far as personnel, the Lumberjacks were welcoming back coach Young, who returned to the bench for the first time in 12 years and is the last head coach to lead the ’Jacks to the state tournament back in 2004.

“I am glad we got to start with Esko. I was very happy with our competitive nature against them,” Young said. “I left the gym with a sense of what is to come for these girls. If they keep working at it, continue to be coachable and dedicated to our program and system, they will do great things.”

For Esko they are less than a year removed from losing in the section finals to Pequot Lakes. They have talent, they have depth, and the team has stable leadership in their coaching system as well, all which should bode well for them the remainder of the season.