Girls basketball: Gobblers stun Eskomos in Section 7AA quarterfinal
DULUTH — For the past three years, the Esko girls basketball team has bounced Aitkin from the Section 7AA playoffs, ending the Gobblers' season each time.
Last weekend, the favor was delivered.
Behind 15 points from McKenna Macdonald, 12 via Ramsey Moe and timely shooting, Aitkin upset Esko 59-52 in the Section 7AA quarterfinal on Saturday, March 2, at a stunned Romano Gymnasium at Minnesota Duluth.
"I'm not gonna lie, it tastes pretty good," Gobblers coach Rob Williams said afterward.
That it should, as from 2016-18, the Eskomos eliminated Aitkin in the same quarterfinal round by an average of 21 points per outing.
Such was not the scene Saturday, as after top-seeded Esko (21-7) scored the game's opening six points, No. 4 Aitkin (17-10) answered with a 17-0 run lasting nearly seven minutes.
"It just kind of snowballed," Esko senior Bridget Yellin said.
During that spurt, seven different Aitkin athletes scored at the rim, the free-throw line and 3-point land in a well-balanced attack that finished with eight different scorers, including five separate Gobblers each with a 3-pointer.
"That's how upsets happen — when the other team gets hot and you don't shoot well," said Eskomos coach Scott Antonutti, whose team, in comparison, was 1-for-17 from the 3-point arc. "Give them credit."
While the Gobblers led 30-19 by halftime, that advantage ballooned to as many as 17 midway through the second and a dozen with a couple minutes to play.
Still, Esko didn't go away.
Baskets by Eskomos Kristy DeMuth, Macy Sunnarborg and Jayden Karppinen in the closing minutes made for an entertaining rally, while DeMuth's coast-to-coast layup with 37.6 seconds left cut the deficit to 55-52.
Esko wouldn't get any closer, as Aitkin's Sarah McMillan and Sarah Curtiss counted four straight free throws to put things out of reach — something that looked weary for a Gobbler team that was a shaky 20-for-35 at the line, missing 10 of those in the second half.
"Thankfully, we hit a few at the end," Williams said. "We hung on."
"They hit them when they needed to," Antonutti added.
Aitkin advanced to face third-seeded Duluth Marshall (21-7) in the semifinals Wednesday, March 6; results weren't available by press time. Top-seeded Proctor (22-6) and No. 3 Pequot Lakes (18-10) were in the other semifinal.
The Gobblers haven't been to the finals since their overtime loss to Braham in 2009.
For Esko, the season ended shorter than expected. And, for just the second time in his 11 years as coach, Antonutti's club was ousted prior to the semis or finals.
"They never gave up," Antonutti said.
"It just wasn't our night," said DeMuth, a junior who scored a game-high 18 points while battling severe fatigue — barely able to walk off the Romano Gym floor afterward, nearly fainting.
"I was pretty beat up," DeMuth admitted.
Yellin, one of five Esko seniors, added 11 points. The 6-foot-1 center, who committed to the University of Southern Maine, was teary-eyed afterward, but proud of her teammates' never-quitting efforts.
"As a team, we played our hearts out," Yellin said. "Everybody left everything they had on the court."
Esko — Annika Wold 5, Sydney Hanson 2, Jayden Karppinen 1, Macy Sunnarborg 7, Kaitlyn Bergerson 8, Kristy DeMuth 18, Bridget Yellin 11. Totals 18 15-28 52.
3-point goal — Wold.
Aitkin — Jillian Macdonald 6, Lydia Fellerman 6, McKenna Macdonald 15, Kaija Davis 9, Ramsey Moe 12, Sarah Curtiss 4, Sarah McMillan 2, Ally Ehnstrom 5. Totals 17 20-35 59.
3-point goals — J. Macdonald, Fellerman, M. Macdonald, Moe, Ehnstrom.