Prep boys basketball: Berger powers Esko past Cloquet
Esko senior Cuinn Berger scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half to push the Eskomos to a 75-69 win.
CLOQUET — After trailing by as many as 11 points midway through the opening half, Esko senior Cuinn Berger helped the Eskomos flip the switch, with 19 of his 23 points coming after halftime in a 75-69 win over Cloquet, Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Cloquet Middle School.
The second half surge for Berger loomed large in helping the team right the ship after struggling on both ends of the floor in the first half.
“I think we came out pretty flat and we forced a lot of shots early on,” Esko coach Derek Anderson said. “Then defensively we were giving them pretty much whatever they wanted, so I think once we started actually getting locked in and playing some defense it got better.”
Tuesday’s contest marked the final matchup of the season between the two rivals, after they previously battled to a 72-55 win by Esko in Esko in early December.
After struggling to solve Esko's full-court pressure last time around, Cloquet head coach Steve Battaglia was pleased with the composure shown by his team on Tuesday, which helped keep the game close until the very end.
“The first time we played them they gave us that 1-3-1 look and we panicked a bit and then before you know it a close game is out of reach,” Battaglia said…”We just kind of made a couple of key mistakes late, didn't take advantage of a couple of things and then Berger for them made a couple of big shots and helped seal the deal a bit.”
After opening the contest with three straight trips down the floor with a basket, the Eskomos saw their lead and momentum slip away in the minutes that followed, as Marco Mayorga, Kollin Bonneville, Jack Battaglia and Reese Sheldon combined to put the Lumberjacks in front for the first time, 9-8.
The four continued to lead the offensive charge midway through the half as Cloquet opened up a 26-15 lead after outscoring the visitors 17-7.
Sheldon’s impact extended beyond his scoring boost as the senior kept leading scorer Koi Perich in check for much of the game.
“Sheldon’s a big, physical athlete who is the closest we have to somebody like Perich for them. I thought he did a good job staying in front of him and made the night difficult for him,” Battaglia said.
With Perich neutralized, the Eskomos turned to Bryce Hipp off the bench with four key points down the stretch.
“I thought he did a great job. He came in and he did a good job on defense. He gets low in his stance and then I thought offensively tonight it was a bonus for him,” Anderson said. “He got to attack the rim a couple of times and was able to finish and I thought it gave us a really nice spark and kind of started our comeback for us.”
Sam Haugen and Carter Zezulka helped the team close out the half on a high note with consecutive fastbreak dunks to make it a three-point game at the half.
Out of the break, Perich helped the Eskomos retake the lead with a flurry of baskets to make it a 42-40 game. The two teams remained in lock-step until late in the contest when Berger pushed the visitors over the top with a big-time 3-point shot, along with a 3-point play.
Both teams will return to action Thursday, Feb. 16, with the Lumberjacks on the road to take on Moose Lake-Willow River on the road, while Esko will travel to Bemidji.
Esko -- Owens 4, Zezulka 6, Perich 11, Haugen 14, Hipp 4, Spindler 13, Berger 23. Totals 28 7-11 75.
3-point goals -- Berger 4.
Cloquet -- Battaglia 24, Sheldon 12, Bailey 2, Bonneville 6, Rothamel 2, . Totals 14 14-16 69.
3-point goals -- Battaglia 6, Sheldon 2.