Hiltunen has the hot hand

GLADSTONE – Jamie Hiltunen is on fire.

After setting a career high against Gwinn Thursday night, Hiltunen surpassed it by scoring 23 points to lead the Escanaba Eskymos over the Gladstone Braves for the 57-48 Great Northern Conference triumph. Escanaba’s victory snapped a three-game win streak by Gladstone in the rivalry.

“To do it against Gladstone, it’s an undescribable feeling,” Hiltunen said.

The game looked like it was in fast-forward from the start. Hiltunen got Esky on the board with his first of six triples, and then Gladstone’s Michael Cretens answered. Then Sam Molnar hit one, followed by a Jared Hunter three-pointer. Hiltunen connected on another, and then Cretens hit his second. The first quarter was a complete shootout, and the Braves finished with a 15-14 advantage.

Gladstone began the second quarter with an 8-0 run. However, it was followed by an 11-0 run by Escanaba, and the game was knotted up 26-26 at the half.

“It was a battle, and we were just trying to hang in there early in the game,” said Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson. “Gladstone was the stronger, more physical team, but we matched it with our quickness, and we really played together as a team.”

The Eskymos took over in the third quarter, breaking away to a lead that they would carry to the end.

Gladstone was leading 33-28 before Hiltunen hit yet another three-pointer. Blake Ballard followed it with a coast-to-coast layup to swing the pendulum back in their favor. But the quarter was all Escanaba at the close, as Hiltunen hit a three, followed by a Molnar three to give the Eskymos a 39-37 lead. Who else would hit the final shot of the quarter but Hiltunen, who drained about a 27 footer to put the Eskymos up five.

“When I put it up, I thought, it better go in, otherwise I’m definitely getting yelled at,” Hiltunen joked.

After three quarters, he had already connected on six three pointers. He was there to sink a big shot every time the Eskymos needed it.

“He’s hit a zone right now, and we kept finding him at the top of the zone and he delivered,” Hudson said. “This is the best he has ever shot.”

Escanaba padded the lead to 10 points in the fourth, and it teetered around there until the finish.

“Brandon (Robinette) drew a lot of the pressure, and that really opened up Molnar and Hiltunen,” Hudson added.

Robinette lead the team in rebounding with eight boards to go along with his 10 points. Molnar netted 12 points.

“They played hard and knocked down some shots,” said Braves coach Phil Griebel. “Those threes and that little run they made was huge, and it kind of sucked the energy out of us. Tracy does a great job with that team, and they should be proud.”

Griebel added that records go out the window when it comes to a rivalry game of this caliber.

“Anything goes,” he said.

In regards to Hiltunen’s outstanding game, he said that they tried to adjust but he deserves all the credit for the way he shot tonight.

“You just can’t leave him open,” he added.

Gladstone music director Bill Sjoquist was honored during halftime, and received a trophy for all his hard work at the school.

Gladstone (7-11), which won the jayvee game 66-62, resumes Tuesday at Manistique. Their game against Rudyard that was scheduled for Feb. 2 will not be rescheduled. Escanaba (6-12) resumes Monday, hosting Menominee.