Esko falls in Class AA basketball semifinals

MINNEAPOLIS --Basketball's 3-point line was established by the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations in 1987, making outside shooters even more dangerous and helping inside players by stretching defenses.

MINNEAPOLIS --Basketball's 3-point line was established by the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations in 1987, making outside shooters even more dangerous and helping inside players by stretching defenses.

Teams like Esko and Litchfield, who have adapted their style of play accordingly, make the 3 an integral part of their game.

Esko got beat at its own game on Friday night at the Minnesota Class AA state boys basketball semifinals at Target Center, falling 72-47 to Litchfield after the Dragons shot 60 percent from field, including 64 percent from 3-point range.

Litchfield made 14 of 22 from beyond the arc with senior guard Zach Whitchurch making six of those while finishing with a game-high 22 points.

"They were hitting everything, and we couldn't hit anything," said Esko junior guard Casey Staniger, who had a team-high 11 points before getting helped off the court midway through the second half with an ankle injury. "It was weird to see the other team shooting like that. We're used to being that team. Mora made 8 of 10 against us during the regular season and we thought that was a lot. Litchfield's offense is just amazing. It's hard to beat a team when they're on fire like that."


Second-seeded Litchfield (26-5) plays top-seeded Minnehaha Academy (24-6) for the championship at 2 p.m. today at the Target Center, while unseeded Esko (27-5) plays fifth-seeded Annandale (21-10) for third place at noon at the Gangelhoff Center on the Concordia-St. Paul campus.

Esko, which is playing in its third state tournament and first in 10 years, had been seeking its first state title. The Eskomos feature a young team, with juniors Staniger, Kory Deadrick and Marc Peterson accounting for more than three-fourths of the team's scoring, and will certainly be a favorite to return to Minneapolis next season.

"Litchfield has a class program led by five seniors and it showed. I think they'll be the state champs (today)," said Esko coach Mike Devney. "They're so disciplined. They got up on us and then just waited for 10 or 15 passes until they got the exact shot they wanted. They just waited for the breakdown. I thought we played some decent defense for a while, but eventually something had to give. Hats off to them. They're very, very well coached."

By the time the Eskomos knew what hit them, they were down 17-3 seven minutes in and 32-21 at the break. Peterson hit a 3 just before the first-half buzzer to trim the lead to 11, something the Eskomos hoped would build momentum for the second half, but instead it was the Dragons turning up the heat.

Litchfield came in averaging 42 percent from beyond the arc. The Timberwolves don't shoot nearly as well on that court.

"We knew they had two big scorers, but when their third and fourth guys were knocking down 3s, it was hard to stop and it got out of hand," said Staniger, who will have his ankle looked at today. "After the end of the first half, we figured we'd shoot better in the second half and they'd cool off, but instead, it ended up being the same thing all over again.

"I'm not going to lie; they were the better team and I wish them all the luck in the finals. Hopefully we can come down here again next year and not have another showing like this."

Senior guard Zach Kinny added 19 points for Litchfield on 8-for-10 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.


"Esko was longer than us, but if you can make a team work hard on the defensive end, that can affect them on the offensive end as well," Litchfield coach John Carlson said. "We've done a great job all season on being patient with our shot selection."

Carlson, the father of Minnesota Vikings tight end John Carlson, goes for his fourth state title today. Coach Carlson was asked if the team's 42 percent 3-point shooting listed in the Class AA media guide was actually a mistake and that it could be significantly higher.

"It is now," Carlson said with a laugh.

Litchfield.............. 32-40--72

Esko...................... 21-26--47

Litchfield -- Joel Madsen 1-4 0-0 2, Riley Pater 2-6 0-0 4, Zach Kinny 8-10 0-0 19, Zach Whitchurch 8-13 0-0 22, Dylan Koll 3-4 0-0 8, Jordan Redepenning 1-1 3, Cameron Sundmark 4-6 2-2 12, Andrew Schneider 1-1 2. Totals 28-47 2-2 72.

3-point goals -- Madsen 0-2, Kinny 3-4, Whitchurch 6-10, Koll 2-2, Redepenning 1-1, Sundmark 2-3.

Esko -- Casey Staniger 4-12 2-3 11, Ben Hanson 2-3 2-5 6, Kory Deadrick 4-12 0-0 10, Bobby Wright 0-1 2-2 2, Marc Peterson 3-10 0-2 7, Jaxson Turner 1-1 1-2 3, Aaron Olson 1-2 0-0 3, Mac McComber 0-0 1-3 1, Nate Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Bolgrean 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 17-44 8-17 47.


3-point goals -- Staniger 1-5, Deadrick 2-7, Peterson 1-6, Olason 1-2.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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