Crosby-Ironton attempted a shot in the closing seconds of a Section 7AA boys basketball championship game that had long since been decided, when a lean figure emerged seemingly out of nowhere to swat the ball away.
That was Adam Trapp, Esko’s 7-foot-2 center, and you’ll have to forgive him: Blocking shots is second nature.
Esko got defensive in its 42-25 victory over the Rangers to capture a fourth-straight section title, with Trapp leading the way with 14 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks.
“That’s the best defense we’ve ever played in a big game,” said Esko coach Mike Devney, a 22-year coaching veteran who has spent the past 17 at Esko. “We were incredible.”
Just then, Todd Peterson, father of former Esko guard and current St. Scholastica player Marc Peterson, came by and said, “It never gets old, baby!”
No, it doesn’t.
Esko (27-3) advances to Wednesday’s Class AA quarterfinals in Minneapolis, either at Williams Arena or Target Center. The Eskomos won’t know who they play until seeds are determined this morning. Devney believes Esko should receive no worse than a No. 3 seed. It makes a big difference. Last year the Eskomos received a bad draw and went one-and-done, getting edged 37-35 by top-seeded St. Croix Lutheran in the quarterfinals.
David Galovich has been the head boys basketball coach at Crosby-Ironton for 31 years and was asked how he liked Esko’s chances at winning a state title, as it did in 2014. Galovich said he didn’t know enough about all the other teams but said the Eskomos have a great place to start with Trapp and senior guard Jaxson Turner, who added 10 points.
“If you want to start a team, you start it with a point guard, and a post man, and that’s two pieces of the puzzle they have that are extremely good that nobody else has of that caliber,” Galovich said. “Turner is just a great athlete, tough on both ends of the floor.”
Trapp, who has received Division I interest from the likes of DePaul and West Virginia, as well as Big Ten schools Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, helped holding the Rangers’ leading scorer, 6-6 center Noah Gindorff, to three points, or 16 below his average.
Turner, meanwhile, helped hold second-leading scorer Jack Silgen, to five points, or eight below his average. Those players looked great in Crosby-Ironton’s 60-50 semifinal victory over Proctor, but Esko has a habit of making great players look average, and good teams look bad. Trey Jacobs, part of a strong junior class for the Rangers, led Crosby-Ironton (25-5) with 10 points.
“We had to do things differently, because our game is predicated on posting up Gindorff quite a bit,” Galovich said. “He’s our leading scorer, and most of those points come in the paint, but you can’t ask him to go down on the block and try to shoot over someone eight inches taller. No question, when you get someone who is 7-2, you can’t practice for that.”
Crosby-Ironton led 12-6 with 6:30 left in a defensive first half. Despite being down, it was same-old Eskomos, being patient with the ball and spreading the floor, as if they had the lead.
“If we keeping working the ball around and get good shots, eventually they’re going to fall,” Turner said. “That’s what Coach Devney always says, and that’s just how we play.”
The Rangers scored only 13 more points the rest of the way as Esko went on a 22-0 run that extended into the second half. The Eskomos led 17-12 at the break.
Devney called it a team win, pointing out how Esko senior Alex Walther helped hold Crosby-Ironton sharpshooter Evan Edmundon to three points. The Eskomos had watched Edmundson burn Barnum with seven 3-pointers in the section quarterfinals.
“Our defense was just stifling,” Devney said. “They didn’t get any second chances.”
One player hoping for a “second chance” is Turner, who made two 3-pointers but was 0-for-3 from the free-throw line. That was about the only place Esko struggled, going 6-for-13.
“Coach will be on me about those free throws,” Turner said, laughing, “but he was happy about those 3s. He’ll take it.”
Crosby-Ironton - Jack Silgen 5, Evan Edmundson 3, Trey Jacobs 10, Ben Jordan 4, Noah Gindorff 3. Totals 10 1-2 25.
3-point goals - Jones, Edmundson, Jacobs 2.
Esko - Jaxson Turner 10, Quinn Fischer 1, Alex Walther 5, Isaac Blue 6, Camden Berger 6, Adam Trapp 14. Totals 16 6-13 42.
3-point goals - Turner 2, Berger 2.