Prep boys basketball: Healthy again, Eskomos ease by Patriots
A 33-25 halftime advantage soon ballooned to a dozen in the second on Saturday, as Pequot Lakes couldn’t keep pace with Esko’s multitude of scoring threats.
DULUTH — Batting the flu bug towards the end of the regular-season, it’s no surprise that Derek Anderson has been having his Esko boys basketball team wash their hands a lot lately.
He may make an exception for Payton Wefel.
That’s because Wefel’s right hand couldn’t have been hotter when the senior scorched Pequot Lakes to score his team’s first 15 points en route to a game-high 25 and lead the Eskomos past the Patriots 68-47 in a Section 7AA quarterfinal Saturday, March 7 at Romano Gym.
“I started feeling it,” said Wefel with a smile afterward, “so I started taking a few more.”
The 6-foot, 1-inch Wefel made his first seven shots of the evening, including three 3-pointers, a jumper, a right-side reverse and a pair of free-throws. In fact, 6:17 wound off the clock before someone other than Wefel — senior Preston Lowe — scored for 7AA’s top seed and defending champs.
“If he hits that first one, I know it’s going to be a good night for him,” said Anderson, who’s coached Wefel for past half a decade. “Once he got that first one, I think things opened up for him and everybody else.”
That it did, as following Wefel were teammates James LeGarde with 19 points and Riley Fischer with 14, respectively. Seniors Wefel and LeGarde, along with juniors Fischer and Eli Blue all have had 20-, 30- and nearly 40-point outings this winter. That’s even without former top-scorer Trevor Spindler, who was injured in a car accident at the start of the season.
“Anybody can light it up on any given night,” said Wefel. “If I’m not feeling it, James might be, or Riley might be, or Eli can light up the scoreboard, too. Anybody can put up those numbers.”
“We can all just put it in the hoop,” said LeGarde. “It’s super fun.”
That said, a 33-25 halftime advantage soon ballooned to a dozen in the second on Saturday, as Pequot Lakes — who beat Esko 69-59 on Feb. 4 — couldn’t keep pace with Esko’s multitude of scoring threats.
“They just have a lot of weapons and beat you in a lot of places,” said Patriots coach Rich Spiczka. “There’s too much firepower on Esko to just let them play basketball. You have to move them off their spot, and we didn’t do enough of that tonight.”
Juniors Alex Morgan and Bode Magnuson scored 15 and 11 points to head the Patriots, a team who finished 19-9, and a squad Anderson hadn’t even seen yet. Both he and LeGarde were battling the flu and didn’t even travel with the team in February, while despite playing that night, Wefel and Fischer were also feeling ill in the 10-point loss.
That was not the scene Saturday, with the Eskomos (20-7) leading nearly start to finish as they earned a 7:15 p.m. semifinal spot Wednesday, March 11 against Duluth Marshall (17-11), a 56-53 upset winner over Greenway Saturday.
A victory Wednesday would put Esko in their ninth consecutive 7AA final, against either Pierz (20-8) or Virginia (21-7). Tip-off is set for Friday, March 13, at 7 p.m. from Romano Gym.
Arguably no prep team is more accustomed to the home of the Bulldogs than the Eskomos. The brighter the lights the better, as Esko is seeking their unprecedented seventh 7AA title in the last eight seasons.
“This is like our second home,” said LeGarde about UMD. “We’re comfortable here.”
Now, back in familiar territory, they just need to stay at full health.
“It seemed like for a while, (sickness) would bounce back and forth, where one person would get it and then the next guy,” said Anderson, also back to 100% himself. “We’ve been talking a lot about water, hand sanitizer and getting to bed on time. Hopefully we can stay healthy and keep it that way. Knock on wood.”
Pequot Lakes 25-22—47
Pequot Lakes — Bode Magnuson 11, Daltin Ackerman 8, Alex Morgan 15, Korey Jackson 6, Eli Laposky 3, Sam Rysavy 4. Totals 17 10-12 47.
3-point goals — Magnuson, Jackson, Laposky.
Esko — James LeGarde 19, Preston Lowe 4, Braden Gabel 2, Cade Berger 4, Payton Wefel 25, Riley Fischer 14. Totals 21 20-25 68.
3-point goals — LeGarde 3, Wefel 3.