Eskymos come up big in the clutch

ESCANABA – It was a back-and-forth game all night but the Escanaba Eskymos hit the big shots down the stretch as they held on to beat Kingsford in a 50-41 Great Northern Conference victory, Friday.

Escanaba never led by more than seven points until the final 20 seconds of play when junior Tara Strahl stepped to the line and sunk a pair of free throws to seal the Eskymo victory.

“That was awesome,” said Esky head coach Dena Fedell. “We work on free throws everyday. We work hard at it and that’s what wins games, free throws and rebounds.”

It was a big rebound and ensuing free-throw down the stretch that proved to be the difference for Escanaba in the final minute.

Trailing by four with under a minute remaining, Kingsford was applying pressure near half-court and Jaelyn Jennings stole the ball from Esky’s Lynsey Collins. Jennings had a clear path to the basket but missed the lay-up. Collins snagged the loose board and was fouled. She split a pair from the line to give Escanaba a five-point lead with 47 seconds left.

Despite shaky free-throw shooting early, Fedell said she had faith her team would make the shots down the stretch.

“I think that they’re confident enough,” she said. “Our percentage of free throws is actually pretty good. I was confident, we were already in the bonus and when we were in the double-bonus I knew we would be able to increase our score.”

Kingsford had a chance on the ensuing possession but Escanaba forward Michelle LaFave came up with a steal and advanced the ball as the Eskymos were able to kill 20 seconds before Strahl was fouled.

“They did stay calm and that is what’s important,” Fedell said. “You don’t get flustered, throwing the ball in different places. When it gets down to two minutes left you’ve really got to take care of the ball and I’m proud of them.”

Both teams struggled to take care of the ball in the first half and the score reflected the sloppy play as Esky lead 15-10 at half-time. The Flivvers were held to only two points in the second quarter after leading 8-7 after the first.

Kingsford head coach MIke Cross noted that his team was in the game late but if they had played better early the fourth quarter miscues wouldn’t have mattered as much.

“At the beginning of the game, maybe if you play a little better in the first quarter or the second quarter that stuff doesn’t matter,” Cross said. “But we were there. I was happy with the effort. I thought our kids battled. You’ve just got to do a better job in the first half. You can’t come out and score 10 points thinking you’re going to win the game with 10 points on the board.”

Escanaba’s zone appeared to give Kingsford trouble in the first half. Cross said his team struggled to find good looks due to poor decisions.

“I thought our passing was so poor that even the shots we got were not so good,” he said. “I just think we’ve got to do a better job of working the ball a little bit and finding openings in the zone and then cutting to openings in the zone as opposed to just standing around and just waiting for the ball to come to you.”

The Flivvers took a 8-7 lead with 9.7 seconds left in the first quarter after Jennings split a pair from the line. That was the last advantage Kingsford had as Escanaba scored the first eight points of the second quarter and never reliquinshed the lead. Fedell said her team still needs to work on ball control but she was happy with their effort.

“It was a little slow start just like the other night but once we were able to start clicking we were able to work it inside to MIchelle,” she said. “We had a nice couple of fast breaks that helped us along. Again, the turnovers were up in the twenties again so those are definitely things we need to work on.”

LaFave paced the Eskymos with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Collins added 16 points in the effort. Escanaba improves to 5-4 overall and 1-1 in the GNC. Kingsford drops to 4-5 and 0-3 in GNC play. Escanaba will travel to Menominee this Monday to take on the Maroons. Kingsford won the jayvee match-up 43-35.