The Superior Spartans squandered an 18-point lead but held on for a 65-62 home win against the Cloquet Lumberjacks on Monday, Feb. 15.

The Spartans sprang an early 22-4 run to go up 24-6 at the midpoint of the first half. Sophomore guard Emma Raye led the charge, scoring nine of Superior’s first 13 points of the game.

Cloquet answered with a 16-3 run of their own to cut the lead to seven before halftime.

“I think we got a little tired,” Superior coach David Kontny said. “We got complacent, and we thought we were just gonna blow ‘em out. We took some bad shots, and they worked their way back in.”

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The Spartans’ first-half success owed largely to pressure from their zone defense, both in the full- and half-court. At the end of their first-half run, the Spartans led the turnover battle 9-2. They finished the game with a 27-13 edge in takeaways.

“They had a nice trap going there,” said Cloquet assistant coach Tyler Korby. “They have some long athletes. They put some pressure on us, and we do have to take care of the ball, but Superior brought that pressure with that 1-2-2.”

The second half was more of a seesaw affair, with teams trading baskets for 12 consecutive scores in the beginning of the half. Then, down by 10 with about 8 minutes left, the Lumberjacks assembled a four-minute, 11-2 run that brought them to within one point. During that stretch, the Lumberjacks’ offense shifted to feature junior Maddie Young posted in the middle of Superior’s zone.

“I thought in the second half they made a nice adjustment with the high post,” Kontny said. “They made shots when they had to.”

“We were trying to hit the open spots in the zone,” Korby said. “We had some good success late, and the girls pushed really hard to tie it at 60 with a timely three for us.”

That 3-pointer, which tied the game with 50 seconds remaining, came from sophomore Alexa Snesrud — the first 3 of her career. Snesrud led all scorers with 21 points.

After finally overcoming their daunting 18-point deficit, Cloquet ultimately succumbed to a string of late free throws by the Spartans. Superior enjoyed the double bonus near the end of the game, a result of 18 minutes of attacking the basket and often getting fouled in the process.

Sophomore guard Savannah Leopold, who led the Spartans with 20 points, iced the game with a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds remaining.

“Down the stretch, I thought our kids played well,” Kontny said. “We made shots when we had to, and we made our free throws. We’re young, and we’re learning, but I like this team.”

Both teams continue Lake Superior Conference play this week, with Cloquet (4-7) at Hermantown on Thursday and Superior (9-5) at Marshall on Tuesday. That Superior is still playing at all is an odd end to an odd year; they lost in the WIAA playoffs on Friday to Menominee.

“Because of COVID, the WIAA allows scheduling games after losing in the tournament,” Kontny said. “Had we won Friday, we wouldn’t have played (their upcoming games). But, because we lost, we’re going to be able to finish all of our conference games, so it’s going to work out nice.”

Cloquet 25-37 – 62

Superior 32-33 – 65

Cloquet – Gracie Meagher 2, Alexa Snesrud 21, Katie Turner 3, Maddie Young 16, Ava Carlson 4, Quinn Danielson 6, Justice Paro 6, Caley Kruse 4. Totals 26 6-14 62.

3-point goals – Snesrud, Turner, Danielson 2.

Superior – Natalee Sigfrids 2, Kloe Zentkowski 15, Savannah Leopold 20, Eva Peterson 7, Emma Cooper 5, Emma Raye 16. Totals 20 20-27 65.

3-point goals – Leopold 3, Peterson, Cooper.