DULUTH-One big basket, that's all they needed.
Instead the big shot went to top-seeded Esko, which was just 1-of-5 from 3-point in the second half, but that one make was the backbreaker that led to Esko beating the Pequot Lakes Patriots 58-45 Thursday, March 14, in the Section 7-2A Championship at the University of Minnesota, Duluth's Romano Gymnasium.
With the score sitting at 34-32, and Pequot's missed opportunities mounting, Esko's Payton Wefel hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game at 6:30 of the second half to push the Eskomos lead to 37-34. Esko added four straight free throws before Jordan Schommer's basket and free throw cut Esko's lead to six. Then the Eskomos went on an 8-1 run for a 49-36 advantage and cruised to their eighth state tournament appearance.
"I don't want to say, 'Been there, done that,' we had a few of the younger guys with some jitters, but for us older guys we've been in this game before so it was a lot easier," Esko senior Camden Berger said.
Esko hit 21-of-24 free throws in the second half and shot 50 percent (16-32) from the field. Berger led Esko with 20 points. Wefel scored all 12 of his points from behind the arch and Corey Kauma came off the bench to give them 10 points.
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Esko 58, Pequot Lakes 45
- Key: Esko hit 21-of-24 free throws in the second half
- Overall: PL 23-7, Esko 21-9
- Next: Class 2A State Tournament Wednesday, March 20, at either Target Center or Williams Arena
- For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2TS1oIY.
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"Big games, lot of fans, you just have to remind yourself about all that preparation you put in to get to this game and how it will pay off," Berger said.
Pequot cut Esko's lead to one point at the 15:49 point of the second half and couldn't get over the hump. Esko answered with a 5-0 run. Sean Ryan then hit two free throws and Magnuson hit a layup to get it back to 34-32.
"I think the biggest thing is we never really got into a flow," Pequot head coach Rich Spiczka said. "We played a lot of the first half tight. We were kind of standing around because we were a little nervous and we never really got out of that nervousness. We just didn't get into a flow. Then, every time we had opportunities to tie it or maybe grab the lead we just couldn't finish a play.
"That's kudos to them. A big part of it was them. They played solid defense. They're bigger than us at pretty much every spot. We did a lot of things well, we just didn't do enough."
Schommer led Pequot with 19 points, but the senior guard was harassed all night. Ryan hit for 11 and Bode Magnuson scored seven off the bench.
Esko's defense held Pequot to 40 percent shooting. The Patriots hit just 2-of-10 from 3-point.
"We knew Schommer could penetrate really well so we had to help on him," Berger said. "Also that little sophomore (Magnuson) could get into the paint as well so we had to maintain our focus down the stretch."
Esko opened up a 13-6 edge at 11:16 off the first half. That's when Pequot switched from its pressure man-to-man defense into a 2-3 zone. While it slowed the game's tempo, Pequot was still able to create turnovers as they forced eight Eskomos turnovers and turned those into eight points.
"Coming in we had a couple of plans," Spiczka said. "We thought the zone really slowed them down and we thought limiting possessions would be a good thing for us. We wanted to make it as short of a game as possible. We just couldn't make any shots in the middle of the second half so we had to pull out of it."
Pequot cut into Esko's lead late in the first half with a 5-2 run for a 21-17 score, but Wefel hit his third 3 of the half before Ryan closed out the half with a fast break layup for a 24-19 halftime score.
Pequot shot just 35 percent from the field in the first half with Ryan leading the way with six. Magnuson and Schommer both had four and Vincent Miska came off the bench for 3 points. The 6-8 post clogged the middle of the paint, which helped slow down Esko's offense.
"We were expecting that a little bit and then we started to get a little stagnant on offense," Berger said. "But then in that second half we got that big shot from Payton and hit our free throws down the stretch."
The Eskomos received nine points each from Wefel and Berger. They shot 63 percent from the field, including 4-of-8 from 3-point. Pequot was 0-5 from 3-point.
"These guys did a heck of a job," Spiczka said. "We told them to hold their head up because I don't think there were too many people that expected us to be here. It's hard enough to do when everyone expects you to do it, but it's really hard to do when nobody thinks you have a chance.
"These kids did that."
For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2TS1oIY.
Esko 19 26-45
Pequot Lakes 24 34-58
James Legarde 3, Jon Stodola 3, Payton Wefel 12, Riley Fischer 2, Corey Kauma 10, Trevor Spindler 8, Camden Berger 20. FG 16-32 (50 percent), FT 21-24 (88 percent). 3-point 5-13 (38 percent).
Sean Ryan 11, Dylin Ackerman 3, Bode Magnuson 7, Tyler Manley 2, Jordan Schommer 19, Vincent Miska 3. FG 16-40 (40 percent), FT 9-17 (53 percent). 3-point 2-10 (20 percent).