Girls basketball: Eskomos win season opener
Last year's girls basketball matchup between Esko and Cloquet was a bit ragged, according to Eskomos coach Scott Antonutti.
For the first half, the Tuesday, Nov. 27, rematch was little different.
But the Eskomos found themselves in the second half, pulling away for a 55-38 win in the season-opening game for both teams.
Kristy Demuth led the floor with 16 points for Esko, which also had Macy Sunnarborg (11) and Bridget Yellin (10) in double figures. Freshman Sarah Wagemaker had nine for Esko in her first varsity start.
"Last year's game was sloppy for both teams and I think Heather (Cloquet coach Young) would agree," Antonutti said. "For me, the thing was getting it all together in the second half."
Young could not be reached for comment on Tuesday's game.
But for Esko, the game marked a first look at five seniors who have grown over the years.
"They've matured so nicely," Antonutti said. "I was anticipating a better-played offensive game, not necessarily a perfect one because it's the first game of the season, but neither team was crisp until our seniors settled things down."
Esko led 24-20 at the break and after Esko went on a 10-1 run to start the second half saw its lead shaved to 38-32. A 5-0 mini-run by the Eskomos made things comfortable.
"I've always tried to emphasize being patient," Antonutti said, "not forcing passes. I think our girls have a lot of confidence, but when we run an offensive set and as soon as anyone touches the ball, the players think they have to make something happen immediately. We have to fix that. The best play is to get it the next open person in the set. In the second half, for whatever reason, they applied that better."
Esko showed a half-court offense that looks a bit unusual to longtime observers of the program's traditional run-and-gun style.
"Our team has changed drastically," Antonutti said. "We've had short and fast athletes, and we had lots of them, so there was a number of years where we played faster than what I like to now. We have more length, so as the years have gone by, we've adjusted what I stressed based on what I have for talent."
Antonutti also had kind words for Wagemaker, who went scoreless in the first half, but was integral to the team's success in the second.
"She was the point guard for her first varsity game, so we can excuse a little bit of jitters," he said. "Yet, having Sarah there allows us to put other players into shooting positions."
The team's early schedule contains Superior, Hibbing and Mountain Iron-Buhl, all before Christmas. It's a good test for an experienced team.
"We had one senior last year and we have five this year," Antonutti said. "I like those five kids. Their focus has changed, like a lot of kids do, from individual accomplishment to team goals and that drives us along.
"I don't mind those challenges early in the season, " Antonutti added. "We just have a veteran group who wants to win, and who have really matured on the court. We also have a big group of ninth-graders and I hope they take note of these kids and what they have done. I really like the mix we have."