March 20, 1998
Carlton boys basketball team members hold American flags during a pep rally Thursday at the Carlton gym celebrating their state tournament berth. (Bob King / News Tribune)
THE BLUE BRIGADE HEADS TO ST. PAUL
CARLTON AND ITS LOYAL FOLLOWING CONTINUES TOURNAMENT JOURNEY
The Blue Brigade makes its final stop today in St. Paul.
Carlton’s blue and white Bulldogs have already rolled through Hibbing (beating Babbitt-Embarrass in the Section 7A final) and Brainerd (beating Hancock in the Class A quarterfinals).
Today’s destination is RiverCentre Arena for a 3 p.m. Minnesota Class A high school boys basketball semifinal game against Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s.
A loyal blue following has backed Carlton all along the playoff route.
"When we came out of the locker room at Brainerd and heard all the noise you made, we all got chills up and down our spines," Carlton coach Mike Devney told fans Thursday morning at a team pep rally.
"I actually think Hancock may have been a little intimidated. I hope we can see just as much royal blue when we get to St. Paul. We’re going to try as hard as we can to bring you a championship, but if we can’t, we don’t want that to take away from how much your support has meant to us."
Carlton is in the state tournament for the first time in 39 years.
"The community’s backing has been incredible," said Devney. "On the way to Brainerd, all along Highway 210 were signs saying ‘Go, Bulldogs’ and wishing us luck. That was really something."
All of Carlton is blue. "Go ‘Dogs" signs are in nearly every business and some homes.
Carlton’s gym was full Thursday, and fans needed no excuse to make noise. Bulldog cheerleaders led the faculty and students, from elementary school up, in a V-I-C-T-O-R-Y cheer.
When it came time for the team’s seniors to speak, only one player stood up — Jeremy Jokinen. The rest of the team is juniors, sophomores and ninth-graders, making Carlton excited about its basketball future.
All five starters are juniors.
"This is pretty amazing," said Jokinen. "I hope these guys can go next year, too. My job is to work my butt off in practice and help make these guys as good as they can be."
Carlton High School boys basketball player Kris Sauter shouts during a pep rally Thursday at the school – to the embarrassment of teammates Adam Bailey (left) and Paul Crotteau. (Bob King / News Tribune)
Athletic director Dennis Sauter read well wishes from Babbitt-Embarrass, from neighboring Wrenshall and from Cloquet’s coaches and players, who lost a Class AAA quarterfinal game Tuesday in Minneapolis.
Three players from Esko, one of Carlton’s top Polar League foes, arrived with a good-luck message.
"We know we’re rivals, but we want to wish you the best," said Esko senior Nick Liimatainen. "You’ve done a great job representing the Polar League and the area.
"Go down there, win a couple games and bring back some hardware."
Hardware, of course, would be a trophy. Carlton has a couple this decade as 1994 Section 7C football champion and 1997 Section 7A volleyball runner-up.
But perhaps the most important trophy is missing from the school display case.
When Carlton made its only other trip to the boys basketball tournament, in 1959, the Bulldogs finished second in the one-class tournament (there are four classes now). In November, vandals broke into the school and stole the state runner-up trophy.
It was recovered, but in several pieces and with a paint job. The Bulldogs are working to restore the trophy, but in the meantime, wouldn’t mind adding another.
"This time, though, we want one for first place," junior guard Sam Pearsall said.
Carlton went on to finish second at the state tournament, falling to Norman County East in the title game and matching the finish of the 1959 Carlton squad.