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Prep girls basketball: Karppinen leads Esko past South Ridge

The Panthers were “flustered” early on, according to coach Brad Olesiak, and were unable to regain the momentum.

Girls basketball players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at a high school gymnasium.
Jayden Karppinen (2) of Esko looks for a route around Adella Olesiak (43) of South Ridge on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at South Ridge High School in Culver.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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CULVER — On the heels of hitting a game-winning 3-pointer against Cromwell-Wright Monday, Esko’s Jayden Karppinen scored 26 points in a 61-38 win over South Ridge Thursday in Culver.

Through about 8 minutes, the Eskomos led 15-12, but turnovers and foul trouble for the Panthers led to a 21-4 finish to the half for Esko.

During the stretch, the Eskomos scored 12 straight points, but hit just one field goal.

“Our ability to get to the basket and draw some fouls was huge,” Esko coach Scott Antonutti said. “I think they had four kids in foul trouble in the first half, which kind of set the stage for us.”

The Eskomos led 36-16 at halftime and then scored 11 straight points — including 2 from long range by Karppinen — to start the second half and put the game out of reach.

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Karppinen also recently scored her 1,000th career point.

“She’s a hard worker and she can fill it up,” Antonutti said. “She can score in bunches. She can get to the basket, she can score from the perimeter and then she gets fouled — she’s really strong from the free throw line.”

Karppinen hit three 3-pointers and was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line against South Ridge.

For South Ridge, the loss was the first of the year and Panthers’ coach Brad Olesiak said they couldn’t get their offense in gear, while Esko was able to move the ball for high-percentage shots.

“They were scoring on back cuts, those were easy buckets and our team was very flustered,” coach Olesiak said. “When you play flustered, your shots don’t go and I thought that was a big thing there.”

South Ridge freshman Mercedes Lawrence and senior Paris FierkeLepp both missed second- and third-chance opportunities from point-blank range in the first half. Lawrence began to find her shot in the second half, scoring eight of the Panthers’ 22 second-half points. She finished with a team-high 13.

Adella Olesiak, the Panthers’ leading scorer, was held to just seven points.

South Ridge played stronger over the final 15 minutes of the game, outsourcing Esko 22-14 to close the game.

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“We got through our frustration, we started moving the ball a little bit and we made some shots,” coach Olesiak said. “It was just a little too late. We’ve got to capitalize early in the game, because confidence is such a big thing and they broke our confidence.”

Things don’t get any easier for South Ridge (17-1) with a game coming up at Cromwell-Wright at 7:15 p.m. Monday.

Kuklinski ‘sets the table’

Girls basketball players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at a high school gymnasium.
Avery Kuklinski (23) of Esko and Adella Olesiak (43) of South Ridge compete for the ball on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at South Ridge High School in Culver.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Esko’s Avery Kuklinski scored nine points against South Ridge, but the junior point guard is far more interested in helping her teammates score, according to Antonutti.

“She sets the table,” he said. “She’s fantastic handling the ball. She appears to be more happy setting somebody up for an easy one than in scoring herself. I think she took a lot of pride the other night when Jayden scored her thousandth point. She was the most excited kid in the gym — she had an assist to set up Jayden. She’s super unselfish and a very hard worker. She’s got a niche for knowing exactly what we’re doing when we’re running different offensive sets.”

Antonutti said Kuklinski recently set the Esko school record for assists in a game with 11, but she had just one turnover.

Esko (14-5) will play at Duluth East at 7 p.m. Friday.

Esko 36-25—61

South Ridge 16-22—38

Esko — Jayden Karppinen 26, Aila Gabel 7, Hannah Swanson 2, Kallie Sinnott 5, Avery Kuklinski 9, Emily Rengo 2, Kyra Johnson 4, Rachel Antonutti 6. Totals 19 16-20 61.

3-point goals — Karppinen 3, Gabel, Antonutti 2.

South Ridge — Svea Snickers 7, Adella Olesiak 7, Amariah Jankowski 4, Mercedes Lawrence 13, Rylee Young 2, Paris FierkeLepp 5. Totals Totals 14 7-16 38.

3-point goals — Olesiak, Snickers, Jankowski.

Girls basketball players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at a high school gymnasium.
Aila Gabel (3) of Esko boxes in Svea Snickers (4) of South Ridge on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at South Ridge High School in Culver.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Girls basketball players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at a high school gymnasium.
Jayden Karppinen (2) of Esko guards Elettra Biedermann (21) of South Ridge on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at South Ridge High School in Culver.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Girls basketball players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at a high school gymnasium.
Jayden Karppinen (2) of Esko pushes past Elettra Biedermann (21) of South Ridge on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at South Ridge High School in Culver.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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