Prep boys basketball: Esko marches on to section final with win over Rock Ridge
Junior Koi Perich led the Eskomos with 29 points in the section semifinal.
HERMANTOWN — No. 2 seed Esko moved to within one game of a Class AA state tournament berth after using a second-half surge to dispatch No. 3 seed Rock Ridge 73-60 in the Section 7AA semifinals, Wednesday, March 15, at Hermantown Middle School.
Junior Koi Perich emerged as the hot hand for the Eskomos with a game-high 29 points in the win. The offensive boost loomed large in light of the team’s uncharacteristically cold shooting night, according to head coach Derek Anderson.
“We know that any time a team goes man he’s a tough matchup because he’s so explosive, quick and he’s strong,” Anderson said. “So we relied on him quite a bit tonight, especially because the three wasn’t falling and we weren’t really making any of the bunnies next to the hoop, either.”
The Wolverines had no such issues getting dialed in from long range as the team knocked down four of its six made 3’s in the first half. Defensive adjustments in the first half helped slow down Rock Ridge in the final 18 minutes, according to Anderson.
“I think we did a better job of rebounding and getting up on the shooters in the second half and holding them to one shot per possession,” Anderson said. “We gambled a little bit too much in the first half and we were closing out with our hands down which let them get some wide open looks. We knew they like to launch the three ball and I think we gave them too many easy looks at it.”
For Rock Ridge, the hard-fought defeat marks the end of its inaugural season as the team finishes with an overall record of 20-9.
Coach Spencer Aune said he could not have been prouder of the effort put forth by his team before thanking the team’s seven seniors.
“I loved our team’s performance. Just the way they played, the heart they showed all the way to the end. I thought we definitely played well enough to win,” Aune said. “Esko is an excellent team. They’re tough. They’re so good and I thought we went toe-to-toe with them. These guys left it all on the court. I love this team, I love these seniors.”
After jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead behind baskets by Perich and Cuinn Berger in the opening minute of play, the Wolverines went blow-for-blow with the Eskomos for the remainder of the first half thanks to a red-hot shooting display from Carter Mavec, who knocked down three of his four 3’s in the first half.
Mavec brought the contingent of Rock Ridge fans to their feet down the stretch with a four-point play to provide the Wolverines with their first and only lead of the game at 22-21.
Before the break, Sam Haugen found Carter Zezulka inside for an easy layup to give the lead right back to the Eskomos before Braedyn Male added to it with another bunny to make it a 30-27 ballgame.
As Esko began to establish momentum in the second half, Rock Ridge’s Noah Mitchell kept the the club within striking distance with 10 of his 12 points in the final frame. The Wolverines were forced to go without Mitchell and fellow big-man Jalen Miskowitz late in the game, however, after picking up their fifth fouls.
Esko’s deep bench proved to be the catalyst for their second-half push fueled largely by sophomore Jacion Owens, who provided eight points for the Eskmomos as a facilitator and a pesky defender on the defensive end.
“He was a spark plug for us for sure. He got a lot of minutes tonight,” Anderson said. “It was tough I think for Sammy to start off he got two really quick fouls and then because Jacion was playing so well we kind of let him roll out there, which is a good thing that we have a deep bench and they’re able to step up and execute like they did.”
The Eskomos will have their chance at redemption in the Section 7AA final with a rematch of last year’s champions of Pequot Lakes on Friday, March 17, at Hermantown Middle School.
Rock Ridge 27-31--58
Rock Ridge -- Carter Mavec 17, Casey Aune 2, Griffin Krmpotich 3, Zane Lokken 8, Noah Williams 12, Grant Hansen 4, Jalen Miskawitz. Totals 22 11-21 58.
3-point goals -- Mavec 4, Lokken 1, Hansen 1.
Esko -- Jacion Owens 8, Carter Zezulka 4, Koi Perich 29, Sam Haugen 2, Bryce Hipp 2, Dalton Spindler 2, Cuinn Berger 11, Braedyn Male 8. Totals 29 10-23 73
3-point goals -- Berger 2, Spindler 1, Owens 1.
Pequot Lakes 53, Two Harbors 38
The top-seeded Patriots stymied the Agates all the way to the end of their season, setting up a section final between the top two seeds scheduled for Friday night.
Pequot allowed only 14 first-half points and held star senior Trent Gomez to just eight points, two of them in the second half.
On the other end, the Patriots developed steady offense if not at a high volume. Three players scored in double figures led by 14 points from Grant Loge. Eli Laposky and Gavin Kennen had 13 points apiece. All three connected from the outside, with Laposky training three 3-pointers and Kennen and Loge one apiece. Two other Patriots also scored from outside.
For Two Harbors, Ethan Bopp had a team-high 10 points. The Agates' season ends at 24-5.