Last week Esko boys basketball coach Mike Devney was on a high as his team welcomed the return from injury of two quality players — Quinn Fischer and Camden Berger — as the Eskomos entered their Section 7AA semifinal game against Proctor Thursday. The duo played a strong role in helping the Eskomos secure a win and a berth in Saturday's championship game against Crosby-Ironton, but less than 24 hours later the Eskomos suffered a couple of crushing blows that ultimately played a big part in their 52-46 loss in the championship against the Rangers. The team found out Fischer had torn a calf muscle and then Berger dislocated his shoulder a few minutes after the news about Fischer was told to the team.
"Being 75 percent Irish I was hoping for a little better luck on St. Patrick's Day," said Esko coach Mike Devney. "It was a bit of a shock to hear that Quinn had a torn calf muscle instead of the cramp we thought he had when we left the game after Proctor. We regrouped and began practice only to have Cam Berger dislocate his shoulder."
Fischer, who had been wearing a walking boot to help offset the pain of plantar fasciitis, played well against Proctor, but he came up limping late in the game after being fouled. Still, Fischer managed to hit a pair of free throws to salt the game away for the Eskomos. Little did the squad know at the time, but Fischer had torn a calf muscle and he would not be able to play against Crosby-Ironton in the championship game. He finished the Proctor game with 19 points.
Bryden Urie gave the Eskomos fits all night as the Rail star pumped in 29 points to lead Proctor, which trailed Esko at halftime by four points, 26-22.
Meanwhile, Berger, who had been out with a dislocated shoulder when Esko played Crosby-Ironton during a regular season loss, also played well in the Thursday win over Proctor by scoring nine points.
The Eskomos received solid play from their entire roster with Adam Trapp scoring seven points, Ryan Pantsar finishing with six, Isaak Blue adding four and Bryce Bottila chipping in with three points.
Joining the scorers for Proctor were Brett Bower with nine points, John Pioro had three points and Dakota Ellis-Ciaccio finished with two points.
Against C-I the Eskomos struggled out of the gates early and trailed 28-17 at the half.
"I think we were a little tight and maybe our team was a little deflated with the injuries," explained Devney. "With only one senior starter, our team maybe felt more pressure than they should have. You do what you can to put them at ease and try to help them understand that they are prepared."
Ironically the Eskomos handled the normally-vaunted full-court press of the Rangers well, but instead they ran into trouble as they got the ball across half court.
"We handled the press, but our 15 turnovers came in the half court, which was surprising," commented Devney. "We worked very hard to prepare for their three-quarter-court press and did well against it, but the turnovers in the half court killed us."
Trailing by nine points at halftime, the Eskomos came out in the second half playing zone defense which seemed to unnerve the Rangers and allowed the Eskomos to creep back into the game.
"Surprise was the reason we came out in a zone," said Devney. "We were hoping to create some turnovers, but the lack of offensive firepower and turnovers were our downfall."
A huge key to the win for the Rangers was the stellar play of Trey Jacobs, who hit four 3-pointers and a big breakaway lay-in with less than a minute remaining to help seal the victory.
Trapp led Esko with a 12-point night and Berger, playing despite the injured shoulder, added 10 points, as did Bryce Bottila.
"We tried to convince the guys that a couple of guys had to step up and fill the void after the injuries," Devney said. "I thought Bryce had his best game of the year and Sam Rengo gave us some quality minutes off the bench and Ben Fischer also played some very good defense off the bench."
Rounding out the scoring for the Eskomos were Blue with eight points and Pantsar and Payton Wefel who each had three points.
"Berger was very good for us and gave us a spark," mentioned Devney of his injured player. "I was proud of him and the heart he showed playing with a very sore shoulder. He played hard and showed some positive emotion."
Jacobs led the Rangers with his 18 points, but Crosby-Ironton had plenty of complementary scoring from players like Evan Edmundson with 13 points and Jack Silgen with 10.
The Eskomos will lose four seniors from a team that finished 26-4 on the season.
"We will be back and we have a solid nucleus returning," explained Devney. "I want to thank our seniors on four great years and wish good luck to Bryce, Isaak, Ben and Stone. The basketball program, the coaches and the community will miss them."