Snesrud pushes Cloquet past Esko in season opener
The senior forward scored 18 of her game-high 20 points in the second half to lead the Lumberjacks to a 55-52 win over the Eskomos.
CLOQUET — A pivotal 18-point second half outburst from senior forward Alexa Snesrud lifted Lumberjacks to a back-and-forth 55-52 victory over Esko in Tuesday’s season opener at Cloquet Middle School.
The late-game heroics drew the praise of Cloquet head coach Heather Young.
“It was just so great to see her come alive that second half and just do some damage,” Young said. “She’s a hard girl to guard when she gets going and she proved that tonight.”
The Lumberjacks trailed by as many as nine points in the opening half before slowly whittling away at the deficit in what was an all-around gutsy effort, according to Young.
“Esko was kind of taking it to us in spurts and sometimes we would catch up and then we would fall back behind again, but I just loved the perseverance of our girls and just the determination, the energy,” Young said. “Just the never give up attitude—that’s just really what we want to pride our program on.”
Tuesday’s matchup saw the return of longtime Esko head coach Sue Northey, who had spent 18 years at the helm of the program prior to stepping away in 2008. This past spring she returned to her position as head coach after her former assistant coach, Scott Antonutti, stepped down.
While the team was unable to come away with the win, Northey acknowledged that it was great to be back.
“It’s great. It’s a good feeling. We’ve got a great group of kids. They work really hard,” Northey said. “We feel like we have a really bright future with our program. We have one senior and she’s kind of our leader on the court but we also believe that we’re only going to continue to get better and improve as the season goes on.”
The Eskomos got off to a fast start and never trailed in the first half — leading by as many as nine points after opening a 20-11 lead 11 minutes into the contest.
Senior Kyra Johnson and junior Hannah Swanson provided the bulk of the scoring for Esko with a combined 17 first-half points.
The Lumberjacks, after being held in check for much of the first half, slowly found their rhythm in the waning minutes before halftime behind a string of 3-pointers by Kiley Issendorf and Alexa Snesrud. A late basket by Lauren Hughes punctuated the late surge to make it a 29-28 game at halftime.
The surge led by Issendorf proved especially crucial given the team’s struggles knocking down shots, according to Young.
“It was huge because we didn’t have anybody shooting the ball well,” Young said. “Those are the moments that if one person struggles you hope that somebody else picks it up and she did that for us.”
The momentum for the home team carried over into the second half as the Lumberjacks seized their first lead of the game when junior point guard Quinn Danielson found Issendorf streaking to the net for an easy layup to make it 33-31.
Esko battled back moments later to re-take the lead, and expanded its lead to as large as 49-40.
Sensing the game slipping away, Snesrud all but took over in the final minutes to erase the deficit and lead the Lumberjacks on a 15-3 run to the final buzzer en route to a 55-52 victory.
Junior Carly Johnson, playing in her first basketball game since sixth grade after previously competing for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey team, made a key defensive play on Esko's final possession to prevent the offense from getting a shot off before the buzzer.
"(She) just came in and just did a fantastic job taking away any opportunity she could. It was just so cool to see and it was so cool to see our girls understand that and how big that was for us at that moment. So I’m just absolutely proud, beaming."
Both teams will return to the court on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. with Cloquet hosting Hermantown, and Esko welcoming Rock Ridge for its home opener.