Prep boys basketball playoff preview: Wins replace hope at Proctor

A rugged start to the season, wrought by an ambitious schedule, turned Proctor boys basketball coach Todd Clark into a bit of a salesman. A 13-point loss at Cloquet on Dec. 12, which followed a 29-point defeat to Hermantown, left the Rails at 1-5...

Proctor boys basketball head coach Tood Clark watches his players go through a drill at Monday’s practice. Proctor faces Duluth Marshall tonight in the Section 7AA playoffs. (Steve Kuchera /

A rugged start to the season, wrought by an ambitious schedule, turned Proctor boys basketball coach Todd Clark into a bit of a salesman.
A 13-point loss at Cloquet on Dec. 12, which followed a 29-point defeat to Hermantown, left the Rails at 1-5. Clark had to ensure they didn’t wobble off the tracks. He did so by pitching hope.
“We didn’t get discouraged,” the 1988 Proctor graduate said. “We just kept working and we kept selling that we’re getting better and the results will start to show.”
The Rails responded by winning 11 of their next 14 games, each victory reinforcing Clark’s early- season message. Frustration waned.
“It’s always going to be frustrating losing games, especially early in the season,” senior guard Travis Carlson said. “But I think we knew - like last year when we made a playoff run - that we would be playing our best basketball come this time of year.”
Underscoring Carlson’s assessment was an overtime win at Esko last week, the first time Proctor had downed the Eskomos in many years. In the Rails’ regular-season finale, they pestered Hermantown for 36 minutes in an eventual 71-64 loss, a 22-point improvement from the teams’ first meeting.
“To play with a team the quality of Hermantown really helped our confidence going into playoffs,” Clark said.
It showed Tuesday night as the Rails rolled past Clark’s former school, Duluth Marshall, 76-58 in a Section 7AA first-round game at Proctor. Next up is Virginia on Saturday as the Rails (15-12), seeded third in Subsection 2, try to reach the section semifinals for the second time in as many years. They are 0-2 against the Blue Devils this winter, the two games decided by a combined nine points.
The old adage says it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season. Proctor will test the validity of that saying this weekend.
The Rails, after a productive offseason, and with a roster awash in offensive firepower, knew this kind of success was possible. Expected it, even. Which means either they aren’t much for history or they didn’t care about the program’s sordid past. You have to venture all the way back to the 2004-05 season for the last time Proctor finished on the plus side of .500.
It would be nine long years before they once again amassed a double-digit win total. Proctor was 11-16 in 2013-14.
The seeds that were planted a year ago, though, are starting to take root. Jordan Wetterlind is averaging about 21 points per game, while Bryden Urie and Travis Carlson are at about 14 and 12.5, respectively. Wetterlind and Carlson both are 1,000-point scorers.
Wetterlind, a 6-foot-2 - or so he claims - junior forward, makes more than 58 percent of his 2-point field goals. Not bad for a player Clark says “wasn’t that good as a freshman.”
“He just locked himself in the gym for hours at a time, not just shooting but doing specific drills,” Clark said.
Wetterlind says because of proven scorers Carlson, Urie and John Pioro (7.9 points per game), defenses can’t pay him too much attention.
“When you can space the floor with great shooters, it helps a lot,” he said.
Elsewhere in Section 7AA

Proctor’s resurgence notwithstanding, this section looks to be one-loss Barnum’s for the taking.
The Bombers, led by efficient 2,000-point gunner Brandon Newman, are unbeaten against 7AA teams. Their inside-outside combination of Newman and Hunter Fetters, plus an old-school, physical defense that yields about 40 points per game, could result in the program’s third state tournament appearance and first since 2007.
Barnum (25-1), Subsection 1’s top seed, opens tonight against Aitkin (6-20).
That’s not to suggest it’s a foregone conclusion Barnum will roll all the way through the March 5 championship game untested. Esko not only has a section title to defend, but a Class AA state title as well. And the Eskomos’ accuracy from the 3-point line makes them unpredictable. Esko averages nearly 20 3-point attempts per night and connects on about 37 percent of them. If sharpshooters like Derek Pantsar, Aaron Olson or Elijah Mattinen catch fire, the Eskomos can beat anybody.
Olson averages 16 points per game and Jaxson Turner is next at 13.1.
International Falls, with 2,000-plus career scorer Ben Humbert (22.4 points per game, 13.9 rebounds per game) leading the way, is the other No. 1 seed.
7AAA is wide-open

Chisago Lakes Area (18-8) is the top seed and is 7-0 against section opponents, but the Wildcats aren’t unbeatable. They topped Duluth Denfeld by nine points in early December and Hermantown by 11 on Feb. 7.
Chisago Lakes spreads the ball around, with 6-foot-5 junior Dylan Wood leading the Wildcats at 10.2 points per game.
No. 2 Hermantown (21-5) is looking for the first section crown in program history. Kole Zuidmulder and Thomas Madison are the focal points of the offense, but the Hawks have plenty of options as evidenced by their 82.3 points-per-game average, which ranks third in Class AAA. They host Princeton (5-21) on Friday.
At 17-9, defending section champ Cloquet is the third seed and opens against North Branch (7-19) in a semifinal rematch from a year ago, won 66-40 by the Lumberjacks. Cloquet’s Nate Weets scores 20 points per game.
No. 4 Duluth Denfeld (11-14) won five of its last six regular-season games, including 73-70 over Grand Rapids in overtime, to secure a home playoff game. The Hunters also boast a late-season victory over Cloquet and a narrow five-point loss to Hermantown. They host Grand Rapids (11-15), which closed the regular season with three consecutive OT games, on Friday.
Fond du Lac surging in 7A

Competitiveness reigns in Section 7A, where defense is little more than a rumor. Case in point: last week’s shootout between Fond du Lac Ojibwe and Lakeview Christian Academy, won 116-92 by the Ogichidaag.
The same two clubs could meet again in the quarterfinals Saturday at Romano Gym. Fond du Lac (14-12) is the No. 2 seed in Subsection 1, while the Lions (17-9) are seeded third. Provided both survive first-round contests Thursday, a highly anticipated rematch looms.
Fond du Lac might not sport the gaudy record of many of its section counterparts, but few of those teams saw the kind of schedule the Ogichidaag did. And they are playing some of their best basketball, closing the regular season with seven wins in eight games after a midseason rash of injuries and illness.
“We’re healthy, nobody’s sick, and I feel really good where we’re sitting right now,” Fond du Lac coach Earl Otis said.
Jordan Diver and Cameron Thompson are averaging 21.3 and 17.9 points per game, respectively. Dexter Delille, a 6-3 point guard, is averaging 35 points and 14 assists over his past two games, in both of which he produced a triple-double.
The Ogichidaag are coming off their inaugural trip to the state tournament, where they finished fourth. Consequently, they’re the hunted after years of the opposite being true.
“We’re the top dog and everybody wants to knock us off the throne,” said Otis, whose squad has reached the century mark five times.
Mountain Iron-Buhl (23-3) and Floodwood (22-3) are the top seeds. North Woods (20-6) is the other No. 2.
Depth is evident, with Wrenshall (19-7) seeded fourth. The Wrens play No. 5 Cromwell in the first round, and the Cardinals are riding an eight-game winning streak, which includes a 63-60 upset of Floodwood.
• Duluth East heads into the Section 7AAAA playoffs having lost five straight. The fifth-seeded Greyhounds (14-12) play at No. 4 Blaine (11-15) on Thursday. The Bengals beat East 61-56 at the end of November.
Final News Tribune boys basketball rankings



(enrollment over 400)
1. Superior    17-4
2. Hermantown    21-5
3. Duluth Denfeld    11-14
4. Cloquet    17-9

(enrollment under 400)
1. Barnum    25-1
2. Esko    19-7
3. International Falls    21-5
4. Floodwood    22-3

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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