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BOYS BASKETBALL: Esko focuses on final

t031318 --- Clint Austin --- 031418.S.DNT.BOYSHOOPS.C11 --- Esko fans celebrate after Quinn Fischer (1) of Esko scored his 1,000th career point against Proctor during the Class 7AA semifinal game Tuesday, March 13, at the Romano Gymnasium at the University of Minnesota Duluth. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 5
t031318 --- Clint Austin --- 031418.S.DNT.BOYSHOOPS.C08 --- Ryan Pantsar (3) of Esko shoots the ball past Dylan Hom (13) of Proctor during the Class 7AA semifinal game at the University of Minnesota Duluth. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 5
t031318 --- Clint Austin --- 031418.S.DNT.BOYSHOOPS.C04 --- Quinn Fischer (1) of Esko and Brody Eldien (55) of Proctor compete for the ball during the Class 7AA semifinal game Tuesday, March 13. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 5
t031318 --- Clint Austin --- 031418.S.DNT.BOYSHOOPS.C01 ---Adam Trapp (45) of Esko rebounds the ball over Brody Eldien (55) and Carter DuMars (21) of Proctor during the Class 7AA semifinal game in the Romano Gymnasium at the University of Minnesota Duluth. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 5
t031318 --- Clint Austin --- 031418.S.DNT.BOYSHOOPS.C03 --- Quinn Fischer (1) of Esko moves the ball around Brett Bower (12) of Proctor during the Class 7AA semifinal game. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Esko's boys basketball team is peaking at the right time, and their coach ought to know.

Mike Devney, the veteran coach who is retiring at the end of this season, says his team (25-4) is playing very well after the 62-44 win Tuesday, March 13, over Proctor, setting up the Friday, March 16, section final against Virginia (24-5).

"We played really well," Devney said. "We played some good basketball. The kids were intense and I have to give Proctor a lot of credit for being the team they are to bring that out of our kids."

Esko led 30-22 at the break thanks to 16 first-half points from Adam Trapp and a defense that held down the Rails.

"I hate to use the 'z-word' (zone), but that defense seems to suit us when Adam is in the game," Devney said. "When he's not in there, we play man-to-man, but teams try to drag Adam away from the basket all the time so zone is the way to go."

Trapp finished with 22 points as did Quinn Fischer, with Trevor Spindler adding 13. John Pioro scored 22 to lead the Rails.

There were two other keys to the contest: Esko was 25 for 31 from the free-throw line and committed only five turnovers.

"They pressed us all night and we made five turnovers," Devney said. "We took great care of the basketball. This time of year, that's where we want to be."

Friday's finals matchup with the Blue Devils, who beat Barnum 60-43 in the other semifinal, will be epic.

"Virginia is big," Devney said. "6-foot-8, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-6 — they are big and wide and they rebound. When they throw a shot up, they have beef going for the ball."

Bryce Kennedy scored 19 points for the Blue Devils, who had three players in double figures. Drake Weets scored 17 points for Barnum, which finished its season 20-8.

Devney says Esko is hitting its stride at the right time.

"We played some really good basketball down the stretch," he said. "We had a couple teams hold it on us later in the season, so we had some closer games than if we played straight-up basketball. Yet if I was on the other side, the way we've been playing with the height and length we have, I'd think about slowing the game down, too."

Devney expects a tactical section final.

"I don't know if we're the greatest rebounding team, but their (Virginia's) thought process is probably to try to limit our possessions because we have shooters and scorers and we have four starters, any one of them could put up 25 a game," he said.

That means teams can't double or triple-team Trapp.

"It's hard to get too focused Adam," Devney said. "We have Quinn (Fischer), Cam Berger and Ryan Pantsar shot the three so well this year. Trevor Spindler got on a roll shooting free throws against Proctor and wound up with 13 points. We saw him put up 30 in JV games this year, so every one of these kids can do it."

Devney says mental preparation will be the key for the struggle in the finals.

"I like the offensive end of the floor right now, but we have to keep coming ready to play," he said. "Everyone wants us and we have a big target on our back. We have to shoot the ball well and at least stay with them rebounding the basketball. You just watch them and say, 'Wow'. They've won 23 games and they can play. But if we shoot and rebound, I think we'll be OK."