March 18, 2010 at 8:52 a.m.
Despite a huge game from junior Benji Figini, and the confidence of being able to hang with the number-two seeded Lumberjacks, the Chisago Lakes boys basketball team saw their season end abruptly last week in sections.
Coming in as the seventh seed with a record of 6-20, the Wildcats appeared to be a massive underdog to the 16-10 Lumberjacks of Cloquet, who were seeded second.
Add in the fact that Cloquet had already beaten the Wildcats this year, and it looked like it might be a struggle for the 'Cats.
But, looking a little closer, the Lumberjacks and 'Cats played very early in the season, on Dec. 11, and Cloquet won by a slim margin, 55-49. Plus, the competition the Wildcats faced night in and night out in the North Suburban was much more challenging than Cloquet's Lake Superior Conference. That conference featured three 20-loss teams. and only two other teams with winning records.
All of those ingredients signaled what could be an upset for the Wildcats in their opening-round match up with Cloquet.
Things didn't start out pretty for the 'Cats as they fell behind 14-4 to the hot-shooting Jacks. However, the senior leaders on the team, including Bryan Eichten, Kyle Duncan and Tyler Keesee, didn't want their careers to end, and junior Benj Figini sure didn't want his special individual season to go by the wayside. "The guys stuck together and started to move the ball more," Head Coach Herb Jangor said. "We got back in the game by being patient on offense and taking great shots instead of good ones."
By the end of the first half, the 'Cats had trimmed that early 10-point deficit to only three points at 31-28.
Heading into the game, the Wildcats figured the key to stopping the Lumberjacks would be slowing down 6'10 Division I recruit Chad Calcaterra. While Figini did a good job in limitiing the future South Dakota State player to only eight points in the first half, another Lumberjack senior really started to damage the Wildcats in the beginning of the second half.
RaRa Jones, who only scored nine points in the first meeting, had nine by halftime, and added 14 more after the break. "They have a big group of seniors on this year's team, it's kind of their year to make some noise, but RaRa really put them on his back in that second half and took the game over," Jangor explained. "He was scoring off of dribble penetration, spot up jumpers, everything. He did what he wanted and we didn't have an answer for him."
Once Jones started heating up and stretching the lead, Jangor said his troops started playing out of the system and got very inconsistent. "It kind of mirrored our whole season," he said. "We didn't play real well at times, but at other times we played very good."
As Jones continued to fire away, Calcaterra started finding a groove down low and guard Tim Defoe started hitting the outside shots, scoring 10 second-half points.
Despite Figini's 28 points and 14 rebounds, it wasn't enough to combat the balanced attack that the Lumberjacks flaunted in the second half. CL was downed by17 points at 70-53, with Cloquet piling some of the points up at the end once the wheels had fallen off for the Wildcat offense.
Joe Fernstrom added 10 points and six rebounds in the losing effort for the 'Cats. Eichten closed out his CL career with a seven point effort.
Jones led the Lumberjacks with 23 points and eight rebounds. Calcaterra had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and Defoe had 10 points, Andy Wappes scored nine and Peter LaCourse added eight points. All of those guys except Wappes are seniors for the veteran Cloquet squad.
Jangor wanted to take a minute to really recognize the work that was put in throughout the careers of Eichten, Duncan and Keesee. "They've all been in the program since fifth grade, and I can't say enough about them. They had the courage, fortitude and mental toughness to hang in there keep after it," Jangor said. "Bryan's work ethic is unbelievable and he served the program will on and off the court. We'll also miss the work ethic and attitude that Kyle and Tyler brought to our team."
Jangor summed up the season by saying, as a varsity coach, he was disappointed in the 6-21 record. "You shouldn't be a varsity coach or play if you're not disappointed with our record," he said. "But, I'm not disappointed with the kids. I can't be. They are a great group and it was enjoyable to be around them. If you're not blessed to be around good kids, it's not fun, but this year was fun. The bottom line is that we have to get better. Blaming people for our losses doesn't get anyone better. We, as coaches, and the kids have to get better for next season.