Braves get outworked as Hematites erupt

GLADSTONE – Ishpeming head coach Tom Graves knew he would be in for a hard-fought game against the tough scrappy Gladstone Braves, Thursday night. So he made sure his girls understood that they would have to outwork Gladstone from start to finish.

No easy task, but senior center Gabby Croley and the Lady Hematites did just that, coming away with a 50-35 non-conference victory.

“Coach Graves just told us that we needed to match their intensity and I think we did that in the first half,” said Croley, who scored a career-high 22 points in the victory. “He tells us that the first five minutes of the third quarter dominate everything, so that’s what we had to do, come out with intensity, and we did that.”

It was a tight low-scoring affair in the first half, with Gladstone playing tenacious defense as their offense struggled with Jess Beaudry out of the lineup recovering from a back injury. The Hematites didn’t get many good looks but were able to gain some separation toward the end of the half and carried a 20-15 lead into the break.

“I thought we lacked quickness,” said Braves coach Karl Dollhopf. “Going into halftime, I was a little upset with our effort. We were only down 20-15 but I could feel it turning a little.

“I thought (Ishpeming) played a little hard, and hats off to them, they’re well-coached. They played extremely well.”

The Hematites of the second half were like a completely different team. They found daylight where previously there were only swarming Braves in their path. Ishpeming drove down court, slicing through the defense and finding Croley on quick passes in the post.

In fact, Croley scored 10 of her points in the third quarter, including Ishpeming’s first six points of the quarter.

“I’m just grateful to my teammates for looking up the court. It’s a big improvement from last year,” said Croley. “We have a lot more court awareness than we did last year.”

The Hematites matched their first-half total in that third quarter, after kicking it into high gear.

At times, the Braves became a little overwhelmed and turned the ball over in their own zone, giving Ishpeming second and third opportunities. Ishpeming also out-hustled Gladstone on the rebound, particularly after second missed free throws to gain even more second-chance opportunities.

“We were able to get those quick passes and a couple easy baskets and that was nice to see,” said Graves. “It’s been a point of emphasis to try to get those, what we call secondary break points. I tell the girls, they’re going to throw pressure, but if you get down the floor, they’re going to have to come at you, and if they don’t, you’re going to be open. They started to see that, which was really big.

“I really thought our guards’ Morgan Skytta and Jessica Penhale grew up tonight. That was the best I’ve seen them play. They handled pressure well, attacked well, they both did a really excellent job.”

Graves said the explosive third quarter was just a matter of being patient and working hard.

“It was one of those things where they threw that zone at us. I said have some patience and let’s see what works. You’re probing, but eventually something will occur for us and we were able to get that,” he said.

Though Gladstone snapped out of its funk down the stretch, the 15-point deficit they faced over the last eight minutes was far too much to overcome.

Both teams went over three minutes without scoring to open the fourth quarter, but Gladstone kept pace with Ishpeming down the stretch, despite losing Christine Sharon and Anna Caramella to fouls in the last four minutes.

The Braves were led by Lexi Hongisto’s 11 points. Anna Wulf had seven rebounds and Sharon added eight points, looking like Gladstone’s hardest working player on the court.

“Lexi and Christine both worked extremely hard, and there were moments when we did. We just always seemed a little underpowered,” said Dollhopf. “We turned the ball over 20 times and I don’t think they pressed us a whole lot. That’s a lot of unforced turnovers.

“Ishpeming actually pushed the ball 3-4 times in the third quarter, and got the ball downcourt to that Croley girl. They ran the length of the court and got that post entry. That’s the stuff we like to do, and to see another team do it to us, it’s like, really? We didn’t have the energy and I’m not going to make excuses. They out-hustled and outworked us. Hopefully this is one we can grow from, pick up the pieces and work on some chemistry.”

Gladstone won the jayvee game 58-38.

On Tuesday, Ishpeming (1-1) hosts Westwood while Gladstone (2-2) hosts Kingsford.

Note: The Gladstone Braves and Big Bay de Noc Black Bears will be collecting for Toys For Tots during their game, Thursday at Gladstone. Tipoff for the jayvees is at 5:45 p.m. Bring a new or gently used toy to cover your admission to the game.