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Boys basketball: Dragons play Friday for trip to state finals

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Litchfield’s Dylan Koll soars to the glass in the second half with Redwood Valley’s RJ Juell in pursuit during the Dragons’ quarterfinal win on Wednesday. The Litchfield senior supplied 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.

When Esko basketball player Kory Deadrick walks on a snow-covered sidewalk, he leaves a size 17-1/2 imprint. The impact the 6-foot-6 junior forward has on games is often just as substantial.

Corralling Deadrick and his dead-eye Eskomos teammates will be the primary task awaiting the Litchfield Dragons at 8 p.m. today at the Target Center in the Class AA semifinals of the Minnesota State Boys Basketball Tournament.

In Esko’s 60-54 quarterfinals win over Hayfield on Wednesday, Deadrick hit all five of his 3-pointers and scored 25 of his team’s 35 points in the first half as the Eskomos built an eight-point lead that proved to be the difference. He finished with 30 points and 7 rebounds.

“I thought they were really solid and they can really shoot the 3 well,” said Litchfield’s Zach Kinny, whose team advanced with a 64-55 double-overtime win over Redwood Valley on Wednesday. “They were playing really well together and (Deadrick) shot the lights out in the first half.”

Deadrick averages more than 22 points per game. While much of his work is done around the basket, he’s equally adept at shooting the 3-point shooter.

Esko, which brings a 27-4 record into tonight’s semifinal, is averaging 72 points per game and the Eskomos win by an average of 23 points. Deadrick is third on the team with 59 3s this season.

“People have not heard about them a lot,” Kinny said, “but I think they can play with anybody in the state.”

Litchfield has proven that same thing the last two seasons. The 25-5 Dragons were the Class AA runners-up last season and have lost five games this year by a total of 16 points. They’ve won 13 straight games and 16 of their last 17, with the lone loss in that streak coming by one point.

The Dragons fought a tough defensive battle against Redwood Valley on Wednesday, finally outscoring the Cardinals 10-1 in the second overtime period.

“A win is a win, no matter how ugly it is,” Kinny said. “We came together as a team at the end. We told each other that we were going to pull it out.”

Litchfield head coach John Carlson likened the Redwood Valley win to last year’s semifinals game against Perham, which the Dragon’s won 33-31.

“I thought it was a beautiful game,” Carlson said of Wednesday’s victory, adding with a laugh, “I don’t consider any game you win to be ugly. It was just two really good defensive teams going at each other and neither backed down. It was a lot like the Perham game last year. I think that was the best game I’ve ever seen in that the kids were doing what they’re supposed to be doing all game.”

The Dragons will need to conjure up the same kind of game Wednesday against Esko. The Eskomos’ top seven-player rotation features six players between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-6. Casey Staniger, a 6-foot-4 forward, averages 18 points and 6-2 Marc Peterson averages 12.5 points. Deadrick leads the team averaging almost 11 rebounds per game.

“They’re definitely bigger than us,” Carlson said. “We’re going to have to adopt the Redwood philosophy that if they’re bigger than us we’ll just have to be more aggressive.”

The Dragons have done it all season on the defensive end, allowing opponents an average of 48 points and holding them to 27 percent 3-point shooting.

“(The Eskomos) are very, very solid behind the 3-point arc and they’re very good about getting their shooters in the spots where they want them,” Carlson said. “That’s our challenge: Do what we do and keep them from getting inside and rebounding. One contested shot, that’s our goal.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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