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Boys basketball: Litchfield breezes into state finals

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Litchfield’s Zach Kinny goes for a layup against Esko in their Minnesota Class AA state tournament semifinal game on Friday at Target Center in Minneapolis. 1 / 2
Tribune photo by Tom Larson Litchfield senior Zach Whitchurch lines up one of his four 3-pointers he drained during the first half Friday.2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS — Esko head coach Mike Devney wasn’t so sure his team had

played a basketball game against Litchfield. To him, it seemed more like a crusade.

The Dragons romped around the Target Center court like it was their

second home, hitting 14 of 22 3-pointers and blistering the Eskomos 72-47 Friday night in the Class AA semifinals of the Minnesota State Boys Basketball Tournament .

“They’ve got five senior starters from a team that lost in the state finals last year,” Devney said. “They’re on a mission. They were on us right away. That’s the best defensive team we’ve played all year and obviously they shot well.”

The Dragons (26-5) play Minnehaha Academy for the Class AA championship at 2 p.m. today at the Target Center. Litchfield may have expected another nail-biting semifinal like it had last year when the Dragons downed Perham 33-31. On Friday, the Dragons had 32 points at halftime. And Esko, which entered averaging

72 points per game, didn’t surpass 31 until only eight minutes remained in the game.

Esko star Kory Deadrick, who averages 22 points per game, was limited to 10 points, all in the first half. He scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half of the Eskomos’ quarterfinals win over Hayfield on


“Deadrick’s a great player and we knew he was a key player for them,” said Litchfield’s Zach Whitchurch. “We really helped a lot on him and it was really a great team effort.” Dragons head coach John Carlson said the team did what it always does defensively: Assign Dylan Koll to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player. Deadrick missed all four of his shots in the second half, which began with the Eskomos trailing by 11 after falling behind by as

many as 17 in the first half.

“Dylan, he’s our guy,” Carlson said. “(The 6-foot-6 Deadrick) is really a perimeter player and Dylan guards our opponent’s best perimeter player. Dylan’s been our guy all year. But it wasn’t just

Dylan. They have three really good perimeter players and all our guys did a great job.”

On the offensive end, Esko couldn’t match the Dragons’ defensive prowess. Litchfield hit 8 of 13 3-pointers in the first half, which Whitchurch hitting four of his six 3s before the break. Experience shooting on the Target Center floor helped. “This is a familiar setting for them,” Carlson said. “We played four games here last year and we’ve played twice here this year, so it’s

not like it’s new digs for them.”

“We’re comfortable playing here,” said Whitchurch, who led the Dragons with 22 points. “Everybody on the team has played here at least a couple of times and we’re getting more and more experience shooting here.” But it was the Dragons’ experience on the floor that made the difference. Zach Kinny, who scored 19 points, and Koll combined for eight assists, and Riley Pater had 3 assists. “We were playing our game and getting our shots,” Kinny said. “We were screening really well. If it’s falling, I guess it’s falling.” The Dragons are prepared for today’s final against a strong team, just as it was last year. Kinny said the team wasn’t nervous before last year’s title game and won’t be this year, but the team may have worn

down physically last season. That’s not the case this year, he said. “We want it a ton,” Kinny said. “But it isn’t really a lot different than last year. Obviously, we have a lot of seniors on this team and it’s our last shot.”

Tom Larson

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

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