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Prep boys basketball: Cloquet captures Wood City Classic championship

The Lumberjacks held strong in the face of a second-half surge by Pine City en route to a 78-72 victory.

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Conner Barney of Cloquet makes a behind-the-back pass around Pine City defender Kameron Jusczak during a Wood City Classic tournament game on Wednesday, Dec. 29. (Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal)

Tournament host Cloquet escaped with a first-place finish in the historic Wood City Classic on Wednesday after narrowly edging Pine City 78-72 in a back-and-forth championship matchup.

The Dragons were held to just five 3-point field goals in the loss, after previously sinking 19 in their win over Proctor in the semifinals. Leading up to the matchup, Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia had made it a point of emphasis to limit the opponent's opportunities from beyond the arc in hopes of slowing down their offense.

"Coming into tonight’s championship, our goal was to keep them under 10 makes and we thought we had a good chance to win the ballgame if that was the case," Battaglia said. “Credit to a couple of our guys, I think we did a really good job of executing our defensive plan.”

The championship win was especially sweet for Cloquet senior Alec Turnbull, who recalls the most recent meeting between the two teams during the 2019-2020 tournament, in which the Dragons dismantled the Lumberjacks, 72-37.

“I played them when I was a sophomore, and we got beat pretty badly. So, to come in and just get the win was big for sure,” Turnbull said.

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Pine City appeared well on its way to a similar landslide victory in the opening stages of the first half, as the Dragons took full advantage of a turnover-riddled start by Cloquet with an 8-0 scoring run out of the gate.

Unfazed by the less-than-ideal start, leading scorers Conner Barney, Marco Mayorga, Seth Rothamel and Turnbull combined to provide the sorely-needed counterpunch for the ‘Jacks, as the club went onto outscore Pine City 14-5 in response. The court remained tilted in favor of Cloquet into the break, as the hosts led 40-32 at halftime.

According to Battaglia, the team has faced similar challenges in the past, which made it easier to maintain composure.

“We tend to get off to slow starts, so we weren’t overly panicked by that, but I’d like us to not always do that,” Battaglia said. “I thought we responded pretty well.”

Pine City coach Kyle Allen was proud of the way his team started the half, but wished their level of play could’ve been sustained throughout the opening 20 minutes of play.

“I thought we came out really well at the start and executed to begin the game, and then kind of found ourselves in a lull and it took us too long to come back from that,” Allen said. “When you play a good team like Cloquet, you just can’t have big lulls like that.”

The Lumberjacks opened up their largest lead of the game just minutes into the second half via a 21-9 scoring run highlighted by baskets from Caleb Hansen and Turnbull.

With their backs against the wall, the Dragons proved resilient, as they climbed back to make it a two-point game down the stretch, thanks in part to a brilliant scoring effort by Kameron Jusczak, who finished with a game-high 24 points. The two-point deficit was the closest that Pine City came to catching Cloquet, though, as the ‘Jacks survived the scare.

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Cloquet (6-4) returns to the court on Thursday, Jan. 6 when the team travels to Aitkin to take on the Gobblers at 7:15 p.m.

Pine City 32-40 —72

Cloquet 40-38—78

Pine City — Waylon Peterson 20, Jason Thieman 3, Cole Waxberg 7, Kameron Jusczak 24, Luke Wilson 16, Lamont Sydney 2. Totals 31 5-12 72.

3-point goals — Wilson 2, Jusczak, Waxberg 2.

Cloquet — Conner Barney 16, Joseph Bailey 4, Kollin Bonneville 4, Seth Rothamel 12, Alec Turnbull 19, Caleb Hanson 6, Marco Mayorga 17. Totals 35 3-6 78.

3-point goals — Turnbull 3, Hanson 2.

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Related Topics: CLOQUET
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