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Esko junior guard Trevor Spindler was helpless, tethered to the bench in the second half of the Section 7AAA championship game at Romano Gym last week. Normally, he is the shooter of key jump shots that help lead the Eskimos to success, but he had gotten into early foul trouble and first-year coach Derek Anderson made the tough decision.
Fortunately for Esko’s team this year, rebuilding after losing its key offensive leaders has been a session in group therapy. Senior Camden Berger calmly took charge, making the key plays as on-court quarterback, and either driving or pulling up for medium range jumpers to lead the Eskimos to a 58-45 victory over Pequot Lakes and a return trip to this week’s state tournament.
This is one of those times when Esko played its state tournament opener, against Minneapolis North, after this was written and before it hit the streets in The Reader, but that doesn’t matter. Playing in the state tournament is an enormous achievement, but getting there is the most satisfying part of the season-long drama leading up to that highlight.
Berger scored 20 points to lead Esko’s victory, although he was certainly aware of Spindler’s absence.
“It was really frustrating watching as our lead was going away and I’m sitting there,” said Spindler, who was as relieved as excited about Esko’s victory.
True, Esko spent the first half getting a short lead and then protecting it as Pequot Lakes battled throughout. Early in the second half, the lead dwindled to four, and then one, at 29-28, before Berger and the scrambling team-oriented Eskomos did whatever was necessary to pull away to a safe lead.
Riley Fischer was another contributor. A sophomore, he saw a loose ball getting away midway through the second half and he raced a Pequot Lakes player for it. Fischer, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, beat 6-foot-8 senior Vincent Miska with a lunge, and as he saved the ball from an over-and-back call, it appeared he got fouled. Fischer twisted and flung the ball back to a teammate as he fell to the floor. Then he was astounded to hear a whistle and realize he had been called for committing a foul. He could laugh about it afterward, however.
Esko coach Anderson had been an assistant before getting the head coaching job this year, but because of key graduation losses last year, expectations were low for the Eskomos. In fact, it was a source of inspiration.
“We came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Anderson said. “Everybody counted ups out at the start, and pretty much all season.”
And without any true big guys inside, and having to develop their own style and key players, the Eskimos persevered and made it again.
NCAA Basketball Creates Own Frenzy
Have you filled out a bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament yet? Do you plan to?
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has become a national craze that is almost its own sports event, and for Minnesotans, having the Final Four in Minneapolis, this year the frenzy is almost understood.
I tend to go the other way. Most years I pretty much ignore the crazy selection process, but every few days a team catches my fancy with a dramatic comeback or a big upset, and then I’ll follow that team until it loses.
This year, I took a look at the four regionals and decided to circle my pre-tournament picks. They aren’t worth much more than the price of this Reader, but here they are:
East Regional: A trained chimp could pick the top seeds in all four regionals, but I am picking Duke, the top seed, to win the East. I would love to see the Gophers of Richard Pitino beat the Louisville his dad made into such a power Thursday night, and go on to win the region, but it isn’t going to happen. So it’s Duke.
South Regional: Virginia is the top seed, but I’m picking Tennessee. I’d love to see Wisconsin beat Oregon, and that might be a good game to watch regardless, and then go on to challenge, bu Tennessee should get past Colgate and then beat the winner between Iowa and Cincinnati. Besides, l always like Tennessee’s bold orange color. Should be a fun region, though.
Midwet Regional: Top seed is North Carolina, and while I generally like blue, North Carolina’s school color is the weakest, “prettiest” blue I’ve ever seen on a uniform. It’s even worse in football. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed. But I’m picking a big upset here — Houston I like their record, at 31-3, and they were on a tremendous roll until getting knocked off right at the end of the season. In my view, that should take the pressure off, allow them to reload, and make a run at the region.
West Regional: Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in this regional, and I’ve always pulled for Gonzaga to knock off the big dogs nationally. Michigan is the No. 2 seed, but I’m going for another longshot here — Nevada. Another team with a good record (29-4) that is bouncing back from getting bounced late.
So there you have it. My Final Four coming to play where the Vikings fans will be displaced by crazed basketball zealots from all over the country, will be Duke, Tennessee, Houston and Nevada. That’s a weird foursome, m and if they make it, Duke will be the overwhelming favorite. So we can all pull against Duke, and the Blue Devils fantastic program, and go for Tennessee to win it all.
But don’t, as they say, bet the rent money on it!