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Boys basketball: Red-hot Hawks shoot past Eskomos

Esko's Trevor Spindler shoots a three-pointer during the Thursday, Nov. 29, game against Hermantown. Spindler led all players with 36 points, including four three-pointers. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 3
Esko's James LeGarde shoots a jumper during the Thursday, Nov. 29, game against Hermantown. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 3
Esko's Cam Berger shoots over Hermantown's Connor Bich on Thursday, Nov. 29. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 3

ESKO — Shortly after being named Hermantown's head boys basketball coach in 2016, Andy Fenske faced a tall task in his first game.

Not only did their opponent, Esko, have 7-foot-3 center Adam Trapp, but traditionally, the Eskomos are especially tough at home — shown in doubling-up Fenske's Hawks 88-44 in his lopsided debut.

Fenske fared a bit better this time around.

Working up and down the sidelines, an animated and positivity-filled Fenske watched his red-hot Hermantown team top Esko 96-78 on Thursday, Nov. 29, before a well-packed and decorated Eskomos gym.

"This isn't an easy place to play — there are section and state banners all over the place. It's an unreal feeling to beat a program with such a strong history," Fenske said. "I'll probably get to sleep a little earlier than after the last time I was here."

That's because instead a 44-point pounding like they took that December night two years ago, the Hawks were flying as high as ever last week, unable to misfire shots for long spurts of time.

In fact, six Hermantown players didn't miss a shot attempt during a first half, when the Hawks amassed a mind-numbing 78 percent shooting percentage from the field, including 10 3-pointers, as the visitors kept the scoreboard operator busy by scoring 51 points.

Hermantown (2-0) never hesitated to pull the trigger, nearly hitting the century mark by connecting on 32 shots — including 13 3-pointers — and 19 free throws.

"There's not too many shots we don't like," Fenske said.

"If it's open, we're going to shoot it," senior Connor Bich said.

Bich wasn't the only Hawk to torch the nets last week, as three starters and seven contributors are back from last year's champs of Section 7AAA. Junior guards Peter Soumis and Kaden Kucza added 21 and 15 points, respectively.

"They just couldn't miss," said Esko junior Trevor Spindler. "We were up in their face and they were still hitting them. There's nothing you can do. I've never seen anything like that."

Spindler should talk, as the 6-foot, 185-pounder poured in a game-high 36 points, putting in an array of highly-skilled shots from acrobatic moves off the dribble to swishes beyond the arc.

Add in classmate Payton Wefel's 12 points and senior Camden Berger's 11 to Spindler's three dozen and it still wasn't enough to keep pace with Hermantown. After trailing 51-39 at the break, Esko (0-2) climbed within seven early in the second half, but a 6-0 spurt ballooned the lead back to double-digits, which the Hawks never relented.

"They'll drive, they'll kick, they create shots for each other," said Fenske. "These guys just continue to show how hard they are willing to work for one another. It's awesome to get this one on the road."

Thus, Fenske spoiled Derek Anderson's head coaching debut at Esko, as the 30-year-old now takes over for Mike Devney — now at Duluth Denfeld — following 19 seasons with the Eskomos.

Afterward, Anderson's spirits weren't dampened, as he wasn't focused on his own accolades, but rather bettering his team seeking to defend their Section 7AA title.

"Defensively, we have a lot of work to do," said Anderson, just outside the gym. "Hopefully, we can get some more stops because we can't get caught playing catchup against a good tournament team like that."

While both teams won't play each other again, each may see one another come March, as the pair of high-powered programs seek to return Minneapolis for their respective state tournaments. While the Hawks are in Class AAA, the Eskomos reside in Class AA.

"That's a good possibility," Bich said.

Esko 39-39—78

Hermantown 51-45—96

Esko — James Legarde 7, Sam Rengo 2, Payton Wefel 12, Riley Fischer 5, Corey Kauma 5, Trevor Spindler 36, Camden Berger 11. Totals 24 21-34 78.

3-point goals — Wefel 3, Kauma, Spindler 4, Berger.

Hermantown — Sam Mesedahl 4, Alex Bjorlin 5, Connor Bich 31, Peter Soumis 21, Rico Rodriguez 3, Kevin Thomas 8, Tate Hansen 2, Kaden Kucza 15, Dalton Everett 7. Totals 32 19-26 96.

3-point goals — Bjorlin, Bich 5, Soumis, Rodriguez, Thomas, Kucza 3, Everett.