Braves smother LaFave, frustrate Esky

GLADSTONE – Head coach Karl Dollhopf and the Gladstone Braves remembered well the damage Escanaba center Michelle LaFave did to them last season, and he didn’t shy away from admitting his focus Friday night after a 51-42 victory.

“We have a lot of respect for LaFave and she’s taken it to us before. We wanted to make sure we were conscious of that and paid attention,” he said. “I thought the people we had on her did a good job and helped out defensively.”

The Eskymos (3-4, 0-1 GNC) star junior was held to a season low nine points and didn’t get many shots off against a stifling 2-3 zone and a responsible, disciplined Braves (5-3, 2-1 GNC) defense.

“We had some pretty humbling nights trying to guard her last year – she scored 30 on us at Esky,” said Dollhopf. “When you pay that type of attention to somebody, it’s due to respect. We have a lot of respect for Michelle and her game – she’s spent a lot of time working on her game, but I thought our kids did a good job recognizing where she was in the paint, who could help. And after the shot, they rebounded well.”

LaFave was held to four points in the first half, but the Eskymos were able to hang around for nearly the entire game, thanks in part to Ashley Cook’s 15 points, which tied her career-high. The senior guard was quick on the fast break and had a couple nice finger roll layups.

Shots were sparse for both teams through a tense and physical first half. The Braves clung to a 13-12 lead after the first quarter and carried a 25-20 lead into the break, despite going 2-for-10 from the free-throw line. However they turned that around down the stretch.

Eskymos coach Dena Fedell said her team needed someone else to step up.

“What we have to learn is, we need someone else to step up. Other girls are going to open if Michelle is covered and they need to know that they have to be the ones to move in there, get to that basket and be there for coverage,” she said. “I told them at halftime, who is my hot hand going to be? It’s hard when Ashley got into it toward the end of the second quarter, then it’s halftime and you sit for a bit and get cold. Lucky for us, she hung in there and contributed.”

The Braves remained as balanced as ever, rolling eight deep with no dropoff no matter who entered the game. Anna Wulf led Gladstone with 11 points and Lexi Hongisto scored 10 points with seven rebounds. Jess Beaudry returned from a back injury to score eight points with 11 rebounds and Alexis St. Cyr scored eight points with five assists.

“Christine Sharon did a nice job defensively and rebounding and it was nice to have Jess Beaudry back,” said Dollhopf. ” Anna Wulf, I can go on and on. Everyone that played made a positive contribution. I’m happy with that and it’s a good win for us.”

Escanaba had 15 turnovers to Gladstone’s 12 (nine in first half).

The Braves took the jayvee game 52-30 and the freshman game 36-35.

Escanaba travels to Manistique Monday night while Gladstone hosts Manistique, Friday.