ESKO – In a clash between two of the top teams in Section 7AA, No. 16-ranked Esko used their speed and relentless defensive pressure to dismantle Crosby-Ironton in a 79-56 final on Wednesday 23 February at Esko High School.
Eskomos are unbeaten against section opponents with an 8-0 record, while Rangers drop to 12-4.
After being ranked No.5 in the pre-season section standings, the club had extra motivation to make a statement in Wednesday’s competition.
“We kind of had a chip on our shoulder,” Esko coach Derek Anderson said. “Obviously we want to win all of our section games, and with tonight’s win we did, so that was a target we had and the kids stepped up and they played well. They are motivated to play against teams from our section.
The senior night festivities leading up to the whistleblowing added another layer of motivation for Esko. Paying tribute to the team’s seven future graduates, the Eskomos opened the contest with a heavy starting five that guided the home side to an early 10-5 advantage led by a strong inside performance by Chad Hart.
“Our seniors stepped up and they played some quality minutes,” Anderson said. “They were able to help us tremendously. It was nice to have a bit deeper rotation than we normally have.
Anderson praised the seven senior players and the team’s senior manager for their contributions to the program.
“They had a big impact. Whatever role we ask them to play, they do it, and they do it without complaining or complaining. So we’re very happy with them, and it’s good for the subclasses to see that’s what it takes to be successful.
Almost five minutes passed into the half before Koi Perich, Nick Swanson and Cuinn Berger all headed down and provided an immediate offensive boost as they propelled the Eskomos to a 30- 13. The baskets came in bunches for the trio as steals turned into transition layups with Rangers unable to stop the onslaught.
“Their athleticism and overall quickness really hurt us,” Crosby-Ironton coach Dave Galovich said. “It’s something we can’t simulate in practice. We did some good things, but unfortunately we weren’t consistent enough because Esko are always on the attack, and their transition game is very good… It was difficult for us to face them throughout.
Esko held on to a sizable lead into the break at 43-25 but opened the door for a comeback with a slow start to the second half. Rangers capitalized on the brief lull, climbing within 11 points of the tie after beating Eskomos 12-5 in the opening minutes.
“Our rotations were a bit slow so they were able to get a few layups out of it, but I think we cleaned it all up,” Anderson said. “We’ve played with a lot of different kids who aren’t normally there.”
A flurry of baskets by Perich and Berger moments later resulted in a 15-4 run, which quickly shut down any hopes of a Crosby-Ironton comeback with a more than 20 deficit.
With the game almost out of reach, the home side kept their foot on the gas until the final buzzer in a 79-56 final.
Esko (18-3) will return home on Friday, February 25 to face Duluth Denfeld at 7:15 p.m.