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Miletich helps Bombers clip Cards

Barnum's Emily Miletich makes a layup during the Bombers' game with Mesabi East in the Esko Coaches Classic. Miletich scored her 2000th career point in Barnum's tournament opener against Heritage Christian Academy on Thursday, Jan. 18. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

With well over 2,000 points produced in her decorated girls basketball career at Barnum, Emily Miletich will soon be crowned the small school program's all-time leading scorer.

Yet it was the senior's rebound that proved to be the Bombers' grandest moment last week.

For the first time in recent memory, certainly within her six years playing on Barnum's varsity team since seventh grade, Miletich and Co. carded a victory over Polar League neighbor Cromwell-Wright when Miletich's rebound after teammate Mallory Agurkis' free-throw miss secured a celebratory 57-55 win Thursday, Jan. 18, in Barnum.

Instants after corralling the ball, the buzzer sounded and a host of smiling Bombers stormed towards Miletich in jubilation.

"It's been a long time," said senior Kaitlyn Skutevik, who scored 10 points in the emotional victory. "It's probably the best game we've ever had."

Skutevik sank a pair of right-side 3-pointers amongst the many that were made last week. In fact, the two conference foes connected on 20 long-range buckets — the Cardinals sinking 12 and the Bombers eight.

Barnum's well-balanced effort included four triples in the first half and four more in the second. None were more timely than Skutevik's two that helped aid a Bomber lead, which ballooned to as many as 15 points after a slim 26-24 halftime advantage. Her last helped preserve their late lead with about five minutes remaining, just moments after Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner took a confident timeout with his girls charging back.

"I don't really think when I'm open, I just let it go," Skutevik said.

"If we're open and have a good shot, we're going to take it," said Miletich, who added seven two-point baskets of her own.

Speaking of that efficiency, Miltetich was her usual self last week, scoring a team-best 18 points in a variety of hard-nosed ways inside and around the paint. She now has 2,155 points in her tenure as a Bomber, just 56 behind Colleen McKay's program-record of 2,211.

If she keeps up her usual pace, the 5-foot-10 senior will soon be Barnum's new scoring queen. She may even surpass it Friday, Jan. 26, when the Bombers host Silver Bay. That's on top of totaling more than 500 assists, 500 steals and nearly 1,000 rebounds in her career.

"She's nothing short of amazing," Barnum coach Dustin Collelo said.

Rather than talk about her accolades afterward, however, Miletich was persistent about how well she and her Bombers (7-10) played against the back-to-back state tournament entrant Cardinals.

"We played strong the whole game — from the beginning, to the middle, to the end," Miletich said, standing next to her classmate, Skutevik. "We just had that energy and positivity we needed tonight. You could just tell on everyone's faces that we were super excited about this one."

"We usually get it handed to us (by Cromwell-Wright), but if felt good to go out and compete," Skutevik said. "We stuck together as a team."

Collelo, now in his third season, concurred.

"We did a great job, I'm proud of them," said Collelo, also assisted by his wife, Jodi, in her first year. "Everybody hit shots and that's what we need. Our defense was flying around and it was just a good team effort."

That it was. Speaking honestly afterward, Collelo said he has never beaten the Cardinals. He admitted it's usually a lopsided margin in the other direction in recent years. Just this season, Cromwell-Wright (10-6) whizzed by the Bombers 78-50 back on Dec. 4 in Cromwell.

Yet, with a gritty effort, some key shots and ball security, Barnum controlled last week. Sure, the injured-plagued Cardinals gave them a scare late — closing within 51-50 with 2:15 to go — but a Skutevik layup off of a feed from Miletich helped keep the Bombers' lead afloat.

Miletich then did the rest, hitting several free-throws and of course, grabbing the eventual game-winning rebound, one of her 20.

Senior Liz Carlson and the junior Agurkis added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

"If we can continue to do this, we can play with anybody," Collelo said. "It's a big win for us."

Barnum, Cromwell-Wright's family trees

Barnum and Cromwell-Wright's girls basketball teams boast some big family trees.

In Barnum, Skutevik and her twin sister, Alina, and Miletich and her younger sis, sophomore Kendal, fill the roster.

For Cromwell-Wright, there are five Hakamakis, ranging from eighth grade to seniors: Taya, Teana, Amanda, Natalee and Shaily. Sophomores Josie and Jordan Jokinen and Amber and Brandi Collman also play for the Cardinals.

Asked of what it's like playing with her sister, Miletich was honest.

"It can get a little irritating at times, we argue," she said, "but we we click well. We know what each other are thinking."

Does Skutevik like playing with her lookalike?

"Sometimes," she said with a laugh.

Noting earlier of their injuries, Cromwell-Wright is certainly not full strength last week. Amongst several missing players due to strains, pulls and tears, is playmaking sophomore Taya Hakamaki. Out since earlier this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, Gronner noted without Hakamaki, his Cardinals certainly aren't the same.

Along with Hakamaki being out for the season, Gronner saw plenty of others sidelined just a couple of weeks ago. Currently, his squad is still trying to adapt as best they can with limited bodies.

"I had a practice last week where I had five girls on crutches," Gronner admitted.

Still, Cromwell-Wright was working range last week. Taya's senior sister, Teana, helped that by hitting eight 3-pointers herself, scoring 24 points. Their cousin, Shaily, added 24 as well. The 48-point Hakamaki output was impressive, yet still not enough.

"I like our fight to get back in the game after being down 15," said Gronner. "It was a gutsy effort to come back, but the first three-quarters of the game, we weren't very good offensively."

Barnum on the other hand, was effective, Gronner said. Especially for opening dozen minutes in the second when they were sinking shot, after shot, after shot.

"They hit a lot of big shots in the second," Gronner said.

And grabbed one big rebound.