LaFave, Esky vanquish Braves

ESCANABA – Up until Tuesday night there might have been the question. Would Michelle LaFave become the next Escanaba star to go 0-for against Gladstone?

Olivia Nash, now a standout at Division-I Oakland University never beat the vaunted Braves, but LaFave ensured that would not be her fate. Making her home on the glass and getting key offensive boards and putbacks, LaFave put up an unselfish career-high 30 points and the Eskymos rallied for a 47-46 overtime victory over their rival in a Great Northern Conference game.

It was the Eskymos first win in the series since a 45-31 victory on Dec. 28, 2007 with the Braves winning the last 12 meetings.

For much of the night LaFave was an unstoppable force for the Eskymos, thwarting the Braves and out-muscling defenders despite their best efforts to stop her.

“It feels really good and I’m really proud of the way my team played. We played hard for a full (36) minutes and gave it our all,” said LaFave. “I’m just glad I’m a part of it. We haven’t won against Gladstone in a long time and I’m pretty happy we did it this time.”

LaFave also had 13 rebounds, eight offensive as well as a couple key steals.

“I guess I just expect that kind of game out of her. It was a very good performance from Michelle, the best game she’s had,” said Eskymos coach Kelly O’Connell. “She knows she didn’t have a very good game last Thursday (against Calumet) We talked about it and moved on. She carries so much on her shoulders for a sophomore and she handles the pressure very well.”

The Eskymos played with a passion and intensity that was there in sparks in previous games, but not throughout an entire game as it was Tuesday night. The Braves matched every bit of it as coach Karl Dollhopf rotated in his deep bench with no noticeable drop-off.

Gladstone held a 23-21 halftime advantage with LaFave scoring 18 of her team’s 21 first-half points. The Braves made it a point to lock down on her coming out of the break, and they did, holding her to just two points on a pair of free throws in the third quarter. That helped Gladstone get out to a 38-30 lead, it’s largest of the night.

With the big lead, the Braves slowed their game down and stalled when they got downcourt.

As the fourth quarter began, the Eskymos began with back-to-back layups from Zoe Berquist and LaFave. LaFave’s came on a steal as she raced down the court, missed the layup, got the rebound and hit the putback. The Eskymos went on a 10-2 run tying the game at 40 with 1:39 to go in regulation, the tying basket coming from none other than LaFave on what was quite the play. Gladstone knocked the ball away as LaFave ran back, picked up the rolling ball, then powered her way past three Braves defenders to put it home.

“She had a good game and she earned it. She earned it on the offensive glass and she had a lot of good putbacks. She didn’t just live on the three,” said Braves coach karl Dollhopf of defending LaFave.

The final 99 seconds would tick down with neither team scoring or shooting any free throws, sending the game to overtime.

The momentum shifted back to Gladstone as the extra period began and Christine Sharon and Lexi Hongisto hit a couple of big buckets to gain a four-point lead. Escanaba answered right back as LaFave got the basket and the point after the foul. The Braves lost Jessica Beaudry, who was the hero in a triple overtime victory over Menominee Saturday, on the same play to fouls. Beaudry had three fouls in the second quarter, two of them coming on offense.

“That’s what happens when you pick up those fouls early in the game,” said Dollhopf. “They come back to haunt you and that’s what happened.”

After Sharon missed a pair of free throws, LaFave put the Eskymos ahead on a toss-in layup.

“We’ve been in some close games and when we came out in overtime and went down 44-40 with an inexperienced team, we didn’t panic. Michelle got that 3-point play and that was key. If we don’t get that, they probably go four corner on their next possession and stall,” said O’Connell.

Lynsey Collins swiped a steal on the Braves next possession and the Eskymos got it back down court where Codi Jenshak was fouled. She missed the bonus free throw but LaFave was there to grab the rebound and hit the putback with 12 seconds to go.

“I just try to play my best and when I get the opportunity, I’ll shoot it and I try to get the rebounds,” said LaFave. “The big thing is getting rebounds and I got a lot of them tonight.”

The Braves turned it over on their next possession and never had a good last look. A desperation, beyond-halfcourt shot was attempted and missed the mark.

“Gladstone is quick and they’re very athletic, but we took care of the ball,” said O’Connell. “We don’t have a lot of experience but we’re trying to get better everyday and I think we have. We just rode the emotion and happened to luck one out. We’ve played a lot of close games with Gladstone. We had a two-point game back in January and Olivia and Jammie (Botruff) battled it out for four years and we never won one. It’s a great rivalry and both teams played very well. You couldn’t ask for more.

“I’m very happy for my girls, my seniors. Tonight happened to be our night.”

Gladstone won the freshman game 34-32 and the jayvee game 56-26.

On Saturday Escanaba (4-13, 2-5 GNC) hosts Class D DeTour at 3:30 p.m. while Gladstone (9-7, 3-4 GNC) visits Sault Ste. Marie.