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Boys basketball playoffs: 'Jacks oust 'Rapids; try to tame Tigers again

Cloquet's Adam Schneider shoots a jumper over Grand Rapids' Dawson Persons during the Section 7AAA quarterfinal Tuesday, March 5. Schneider led all scorers with 24 points in the Lumberjacks' 59-57 win. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet's Riley Leslie scores in front of Grand Rapids' John Sutherland during the Section 7AAA quarterfinal Tuesday, March 5. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 3
Cloquet's Nick Flynn makes a reverse layup during the Section 7AAA quarterfinal win over Grand Rapids on Tuesday, March 5. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 3

CLOQUET — Following their boys basketball playoff victory over Grand Rapids earlier this week, Cloquet's Adam Schneider answered questions in his first postgame interview.

The way the sensational sophomore played, it's only the first of many.

Schneider sliced and diced his way for a game-high 24 points as the Lumberjacks hung on to top the Thunderhawks 59-57 in a Section 7AAA quarterfinal Tuesday, March 5, at a crowded Cloquet Middle School.

Busy bleachers are to be expected when these two play, as Cloquet and Grand Rapids have wrangled with one another in nine of the last 14 postseasons, including three times in the finals, twice in the semis and four occasions in the quarters.

Meeting in the quarters the past two winters, the Lumberjacks did what they did a year ago, in ousting the Thunderhawks in another high-intensity competition.

"It felt like no one was going to give up," said coach Dan Elhard, now in his 16th season at Grand Rapids. "We just ran out of time."

That wasn't the scene early Tuesday, as the fifth-seeded Thunderhawks (9-17) tore off to a 20-8 lead, before the hosts closed the half on a 27-8 spurt of their own, giving the No. 4 Lumberjacks (14-13) a 35-28 advantage by halftime.

That seven-point cushion bent a little in the second, but never broke, thanks in part to a Cloquet offense that answered every Grand Rapids run, while also holding 6-foot-5 Thunderhawk John Sutherland to a mere four second-half points after scoring 15 of their first 20.

"I think he's the best offensive player in the section," Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia said of Sutherland.

"Whatever side he was on, we all went over there," Schneider said of Sutherland. "All five of us."

Schneider, however — a silky 6-foot, 150-pound right-hander — was the most effective, hitting from long range, elevating for jumpers, sinking his free throws and attacking the cup.

In fact, Schneider scored 11 of the Lumberjacks' 15 points during a five-minute stretch in the first half, outscoring the Thunderhawks single-handedly.

Come the second, Grand Rapids got as close as 51-48 and 57-54, but free throws by Schneider and Co. iced it, including Schneider's swish with 14.1 seconds left.

"We want the ball running through him, especially when he's hot like this," Battaglia said of his smooth guard, who averages a team-best 15 points per game.

Speaking of hot, Schneider was a perfect 4-for-4 from the 3-point line Tuesday, while he added a quartet of field goals and four more free-throws in his first-ever significant playoff contest.

"I'm just trying to help my teammates get to state," said unselfish Schneider outside the locker room. "I want to help the seniors keep going."

Two of those seniors are Nick Flynn and Alex Leuzzo, each who added 11 points respectively on Tuesday, as Cloquet now faces top-seeded Princeton (24-3) in the semifinals Friday, March 8, at Duluth East High School at 6 p.m. The other semi features No. 2 Hibbing (21-6) and No. 6 Denfeld (12-14), 64-61 upset winners at No. 3 Hermantown in again, a wild 7AAA bracket.

That was never better shown than last March, when the then-No. 4 Lumberjacks shocked the same top-ranked Tigers 86-83 in the same semifinal round at the same Greyhounds gym.

Perhaps an encore is in store?

"You never know. It's going to take a monumental effort, but we're just happy to have the opportunity," Battaglia said of the Tigers, who cruised by Cloquet 89-55 on Dec. 14. "No one's safe. But, if we just show up, we'll get run out of the gym."

"It's gonna be a good game," Schneider said.

Cloquet 35-24—59

Grand Rapids 28-29—57

Cloquet — Adam Schneider 24, Nick Flynn 11, Alex Leuzzo 11, Riley Leslie 8, Alec Turnbull 3, Markus Pokornowski 2. Totals 20 14-21 59.

3-point goals — Schneider 4, Leuzzo.

Grand Rapids — John Sutherland 19, Stacy Washington 13, Levi Winkels 11, David Ellies 6, Easton Fothergill 3, Trent Johnson 3, Dawson Persons 2. Totals 22 5-7 57.

3-point goals — Winkels 3, Ellies 2, Washington, Fothergill, Johnson.