Undefeated Redettes stave off inspired Eskymos

MARQUETTE – The Escanaba girls kept battling throughout a Great Northern Conference basketball game Saturday night.

Top-ranked Marquette had a response to every challenge the Eskymos had to offer, however, as the undefeated Redettes (15-0, 6-0 GNC) earned a 73-64 triumph.

Esky trailed 40-31 early in the third quarter, but then went on a 14-3 run.

Junior center Sam Connor finished that run by sinking a pair of free throws, giving the Eskymos a 45-43 lead with one minute, 56 seconds left in the period.

Moments later, junior Shayla Huebner stole the ball from Connor under the Esky basket and converted a layup to tie the score at 45, enabling the Redettes to seize the momentum.

Marquette then scored the next six points, gaining a 51-45 advantage on junior Elizabeth Kurin’s buzzer-beating jump shot from top of the key.

“Little things can sometimes swing the momentum,” said Esky coach Dena Fedell. “The girls triumphed through the bad passes. If we play the remaining games like this, we should finish the season strong. Everybody pitched in tonight.”

The Redettes opened the fourth stanza with a 9-1 run, gaining an insurmountable 60-47 cushion on a 21-foot jumper from the left wing by junior guard Hunter Viitala.

“Hunter made some big threes, which got things going in our direction,” said Marquette coach Ben Smith. “She usually doesn’t shoot a lot. But tonight Hunter left her stamp on the game and Shayla made some timely steals. Everyone chipped in and did her job.”

Esky, which trailed most of the way, rallied to tie the score five times before taking their only lead late in the third frame.

Junior center Michelle LaFave scored 26 points to go with 20 rebounds and five assists for the Eskymos (7-8 overall, 1-4 league). Senior guard Lynsey Collins added a career-high 22 points and three assists.

“I thought Michelle and Lynsey played well,” said Fedell. “Both are smart ballplayers. I think all the girls stepped up. The whole team did a real good job.”

Esky senior guard Sydney Gafner collected four steals.

Viitala, who sank five 3-point shots and had five steals, paced the Redettes with 24 points. Kurin hit 11 points. Destiny Beckwith and Madalyne Connon had 10 each. Connon also had five assists and five steals.

“Maddie played real well under the basket,” said Smith. “We had four score in double digits, which we’re real pleased with. I don’t care who scores and gets steals, rebounds and assists as long as everybody does her job. We have kids with skills, but we have to play hard.”

The Eskymos sank 24-of-32 free throws, including an 11-of-13 effort in the first half.

“We practice free throws every day,” said Fedell. “We make a game of it, which makes it more fun for the girls. We played better in the fourth quarter tonight than we did Thursday night (in a 76-51 loss at third-ranked Houghton). That was very disappointing because we were only down by a point after the third quarter, then you could see us breaking down. Our defense made a difference tonight. We adjusted pretty well.”

Esky held a 44-41 rebounding edge, but committed 28 turnovers. The Redettes sank 20-of-59 field goals and 19-of-37 free throws and had 24 miscues.

Marquette lost junior guard Casey Durand to a wrist injury late in the second quarter.

“That’s a terrible break for her,” said Smith. “Casey was just starting to gain some confidence and made a couple big threes for us tonight. We’re hoping for the best.”

The Marquette jayvees also won 74-25 and the Esky freshmen were 43-41 winners.

Esky travels to Kingsford Tuesday. The Redettes host Houghton tonight.