Prep boys basketball: Pequot Lakes weathers storm to defeat Esko in Section 7AA final
The Patriots trailed by as many as 14 points before battling back late in the first half and throughout the second.
HERMANTOWN — Composure and poise was required on the part of top-seeded Pequot Lakes on the way to capturing its second-consecutive Section 7AA title, with a 77-59 win over No. 2 seed Esko, Friday, March 17 at Hermantown High School.
The Patriots trailed by as many as 14 points in the first before storming back to tie the game at halftime. The momentum carried over into the final 18 minutes of play as Pequot Lakes outscored Esko 41-23 to earn the program’s fifth trip to the state tournament.
“I think the biggest thing is guts, we played as a unit,” Pequot Lakes head coach Rich Spiczka said of the team's comeback. “They punched us right in the face coming out of the gate … We were just a little skittish early you know, turned it over. They came out flying and kicked our butt there early, but our guys just kind of settled in (and) made a huge run.”
Last year’s section title laid the foundation for their success this season, according to Spiczka.
“The biggest thing I think for our guys is we figured out there’s kind of been a stigma, like Esko owns this section. And last year we figured out they don’t have to own it, we can do something about it,” he said. “Those guys got us over the hump and it’s harder to stay on the top of the mountain than it is to get to the top of it, and our guys found a way to stay up there.”
The Eskomos finish the season with a 25-4 record after having their postseason run fall short in the section final for the second year in a row. Head coach Derek Anderson thanked the team’s three seniors, Carter Zezulka, Cuinn Berger and Adam Rudnicki, for their contributions to the program.
“We talked about how much we appreciate that group of kids out there, especially our seniors who worked incredibly hard. It was fun to be around them every day,” Anderson said. “They’re a goofy bunch and they know when to get to work...It was obviously a tough way to end the season.”
Leading scorers Koi Perich, Sam Haugen and Berger combined to provide Esko with an explosive start to the first half highlighted by five made 3-pointers, as the Patriots were left reeling in the face of a 8-2 deficit that grew to 28-14 down the stretch.
Transition baskets created off steals aided in the fast start, according to Anderson.
“I think a really big part of it was on the defensive end,” Anderson said. “We were getting some deflections and some steals and then we were able to get down in transition, which is why I think we opened up a double-digit lead there."
After calling a timeout to regroup, the Patriots closed out the half on a 22-8 scoring run capped off by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by senior Eli Laposky, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
Gavin Kennen poured in 13 of his 19 points in the opening frame, while Grant Loge added 11 of his game-total of 15.
The big three, along with junior Brayden Spiczka, propelled Pequot Lakes to its first lead of the game, and one that it never relinquished, minutes into the second half at 47-45.
As the momentum continued to swing to the other end of the court, Esko’s best efforts to slow down the Patriots were dashed as a result of foul trouble, as Pequot Lakes made all 17 of its free throw attempts in the final frame to finish a perfect 21-21 for the game.
The section champions await their Class AA state tournament seeding with the quarterfinal round set to begin Tuesday, March 21.
Pequot Lakes 36-41--77
Esko -- Carter Zezulka 2, Koi Perich 16, Sam Haugen 14, Dalton Spindler 8, Cuinn Berger 15, Braedyn Male 4. Totals 19 3-6 59.
3-point goals -- Berger 3, Haugen 4, Perich 1, Spindler 2.
Pequot Lakes -- Eli Laposky 23, Bryar Nordby 2, Gavin Kennen 19, Grant Loge 15, Conner Quale 4, Brayden Spiczka 12, Leo Bolz-Andolshek 2. Totals 24 21-21 77.
3-point goals -- Laposky 2, Kennen 1, Loge 1, Spiczka 2.