High school boys state basketball: Holy Family Catholic takes out Cloquet in first round

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Cloquet Lumberjacks staggered through a few body blows early in their boys basketball state tournament quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Cloquet state basketball
Cloquet's Zach Gerlach makes a layup in the Class AAA quarterfinal against Holy Family Catholic at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Cloquet Lumberjacks staggered through a few body blows early in their boys basketball state tournament quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Dazed, the Lumberjacks recovered nicely, even taking a brief lead against Holy Family Catholic midway through the opening half. The Fire, though, quit jabbing and delivered the de facto knockout punch with a game-changing 14-0 burst en route to a 63-41 victory and a spot in today's Class AAA semifinals.

"We went punch for punch for a while," Cloquet senior Dillon Johnson said. "We fought as long as we could."

Johnson sparked the unseeded Lumberjack faithful when he buried a line-drive 3-pointer on his team's first possession. He immediately turned and screamed in the direction of the Cloquet bench -- and the "Cloquet Crazies" behind it. But Holy Family responded in a way befitting the bracket's No. 3 seed.

A quick start fizzled for the Fire (28-2), who fell behind 19-18 before ripping off their 14-0 run that thrust the Lumberjacks (24-5) up against the ropes.


This time, there was no bouncing back.

Justin Dahl scored 15 points, Joe Hanel added 14, and Holy Family used a towering height advantage to wear down the Section 7AAA champs. Dahl, all 6-foot-11 of him, facilitated the Fire offense from the paint. Defensively, he continuously altered shots, if not flat-out blocking them.

Nine Holy Family players are listed at 6-2 or taller.

"Their length gave us trouble," Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia said. "We had a tough time scoring in the paint."

The Fire, who will meet Austin in today's semifinal round, took a 34-21 lead into halftime. The Lumberjacks, such a stellar shooting team all season, made just two of their eight 3-point attempts in the first 18 minutes. Overall, Cloquet shot 4 of 19 from beyond the arc -- all four coming from Johnson. With little brewing inside the Dahl-controlled lane, the Lumberjacks simply couldn't afford to shoot just 21 percent from the 3-point line.

Holy Family's height allowed the Fire to be ultra-aggressive on the perimeter. They constantly challenged shots and jumped passers. After all, they had a nice security blanket waiting in the paint.

"With Justin inside, we know if we get beat he's there to help out," Holy Family coach Matt Thuli said.

Hanel scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, including a buzz-worthy baseline dunk that made it 16-15 Holy Family.


The Fire are playing in their second state tournament. They won a state title in their only other appearance, 2007.

Veteran-laden Cloquet, meanwhile, qualified for the first time since 2000. The Lumberjacks had some life immediately after halftime -- Johnson hit another 3 to make it a 10-point game at 34-24 -- but they never could seriously chip into their deficit.

Adam Laine, Cloquet's own talented big man, finished with 13 points, well shy of his 21.2 points-per-game average. Time and time again, Laine got to the basket with an array of nifty post moves, but his shots kept rattling out. It was that kind of game for the Lumberjacks, who shot 29 percent (14 for 48) from the field.

Still, Johnson, who had a team-high 15 points, kept a positive outlook.

"Coming back for the limited amount of time that I did, and playing with this group of seniors, we made Cloquet history," said Johnson, who missed the beginning of the season while battling back from an ACL injury. "It was more than I could have asked for."

Cloquet 21-20--41

Holy Family 34-29--63

Cloquet -- Dillon Johnson 15, Adam Laine 13, Mason Brenner 6, Zach Gerlach 4, Jake Bushey 2, Nate Weets 1. Totals 14 9-12 41.


3-point goals -- Johnson 4.

Holy Family Catholic -- Justin Dahl 15, Joe Hanel 14, Duncan Faris 8, Brent Hentges 8, Colton Stenerson 6, Jack Mugford 6, Joe Conroy 4, Kyle Schumer 2. Totals 24 10-13 63.

3-point goals -- Stenerson 2, Mugford 2, Faris.

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