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LARGE SCHOOLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Big teams, big dreams

CLOQUET--The Lumberjacks are ready. Cloquet (17-9) enters the postseason as the defending Section 7AAA champion, knowing what it takes to win a title. If that weren't enough, the Lumberjacks are arguably the hottest team within the field, winning...

Cloquet's Nate Weets

CLOQUET-The Lumberjacks are ready.

Cloquet (17-9) enters the postseason as the defending Section 7AAA champion, knowing what it takes to win a title. If that weren’t enough, the Lumberjacks are arguably the hottest team within the field, winning their final four games and averaging more than 75 points per night.

Their 85-61 win at Proctor last Thursday best displayed that, as Cloquet carded a dizzying 19 3-pointers, nine of which came off the right hand of senior sharp-shooter Mason Brenner, as five others - Cloquet senior guard Nate Weets included - also joined in.

“We’ve strung some wins together and we have a lot of confidence in our locker room right now,” Weets said.

That could be a scary thing for anyone in their path, starting with sixth-seeded North Branch Friday at 7 p.m. in Cloquet. A win would likely pit the No. 3 Lumberjacks with second-seed and arch-rival Hermantown next Tuesday in a rematch of last year’s final, which Cloquet won 71-60 to advance to their first state tournament since 2000.

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“Last year was as good as it gets,” said senior forward Zach Gerlach at practice. “We’re hoping we can do it again.”

The last time the Lumberjacks’ repeated state trips was in 1997 and 1998. Coach Steve Battaglia - who played on those teams - said the school did it once before then, in 1962 and 1963.

“Going back-to-back isn’t easy, but it’s been done here twice before, so maybe we can make it three,” Battaglia said of their potential state encore hopes. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re not looking past North Branch Friday.”

The Cloquet players are hoping they’ll be cutting down nets next week.

“I think we have as good a chance as anyone right now,” Weets said. “The section is anyone’s taking. No one thinks we can win it again. We have a little chip on our shoulder.”

 

Section 7AA

On Saturday in Section 7AA, defending Class AA state champ and No. 2 seed Esko (20-7) will match up with third-seed Moose Lake-Willow River (14-13). The two met last Friday, with the Eskomos escaping with a 55-49 win.

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Co-top seed Barnum (25-1), which lost to Esko in the final a season ago, began play Wednesday at press time due to a band concert. Led by 2,000-point scorer senior Brandon Newman, Barnum is seeking its first state trek since 2007.

“They’re the favorite,” Esko Coach Mike Devney said.

“There are a lot of good teams in AA,” Barnum’s Rich Newman said. “Getting to the final always takes a little luck.”

Barnum's Brandon Newman

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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