Jensen, Braves bend, but don’t break

ESCANABA – The Gladstone Braves bent, but they didn’t break.

Allowing the Escanaba girls to rally from double digit deficits twice, Gladstone showed heart and determination in rising to the challenge when they needed to, and slammed the door shut on the Eskymos in a 67-59 victory, Monday night.

“This was the fourth game of our road trip,” said Gladstone head coach Karl Dollhopf. “It started with Ishpeming, then Westwood, Menominee and now Escanaba. I thought they showed the maturity and competitiveness to stick with it.”

Unlike Gladstone’s 51-42 victory over their rival earlier in the season, the Braves had a determined Michelle LaFave to contend with in this one.

Having scored 30 points against the Braves on this same court last season, LaFave equalled that achievement Monday night and added 14 rebounds to boot.

Unquestionably the best player on the floor, LaFave, the Eskymos’ All-U.P. center drove through double teams, drew fouls and was a superb 10-for-11 at the free-throw line as well.

Gladstone appeared to be pulling away at a couple points in this game. At the start of the second quarter, they launched a 9-2 run to take a 26-16 lead, but LaFave scored 11 of her team’s 14 points in the quarter to close the gap to 31-26 at the half.

After two LaFave free throws in the third quarter, the Eskymos had battled back to within 39-38 with less than a minute remaining in the frame.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the Braves unleashed a flurry of buckets. Callie Jensen hit an open layup in the paint before Alexis St. Cyr stole the ball and hit a wide-open layup, and Jess Beaudry capped off the quarter with a driving layup of her own and the Braves led 45-38.

The Braves then expanded that lead in the fourth, going up 49-38 on back to back buckets from Beaudry and Christine Sharon.

Fedell called the Braves lightning strikes the turning point in the game.

“The little momentum swing where they got three quick buckets on us,” began Fedell. “We went into the fourth and I said ‘OK, all that battling you just did, now we have to really battle back again’, and they did, effortlessly.”

Down at least 10 points for the second time in the contest, Escanaba again turned to LaFave to bring them back. She hit a putback on a missed free throw, then drew a foul after a driving layup for a three-point play, and hit her 30th point with five minutes remaining in the quarter, to bring the Eskymos within 49-48 after a 10-0 run.

“I told the girls at halftime that the ball needed to be put in Michelle’s hands. It has to be in there,” Fedell said of her star center’s effort.

“It was a very good effort. I told the girls to keep their heads up and to be proud of their effort. I thought the fourth quarter tonight was our best of the season. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

However with LaFave’s 30th point and the Eskymos within one point of a comeback, the Braves rose to the challenge yet again.

Jess Beaudry drew a three-point play and was at her best in the fourth quarter, and Callie Jensen with a career 17-point effort paced the Braves throughout.

Dollhopf was happy for Jensen after watching her hard work pay off in a big game.

“The senior leadership she brought, that’s just flat-out being ready to play,” he said. “I’m happy for her, because she’s one that’s worked hard all year and kept a positive attitude even when things didn’t go her way,” he said. “It’s fun when things pay off and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid. I’m glad to see her have a big game.”

The senior duo of Beaudry and Jensen sparked an 8-0 Braves run in the fourth quarter, to all but put the game away. Beaudry matched her season high with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“It was a great team effort by everyone,” Jensen said. “We all stuck together. We wanted to get it done, and it really showed.”

Added St. Cyr, “We definitely played for our seniors out there. It was their last game against Escanaba. We just wanted to do it for them.”

Lynsey Collins and LaFave both fouled out in the closing minute and St. Cyr hit her free throws down the stretch to keep the Eskymos at bay. Collins put up 12 points in the loss.

Dollhopf praised the Eskymos’ effort following the game.

“Hats off to Escanaba,” he said. “They played with a lot of heart. They did a lot of good things, and gave us everything we wanted. I think we were lucky to get out of here. We always know it’s going to be a tough game.”

The Escanaba jayvees beat Gladstone in a 51-48 thriller, with Callie Heller leading the way with 15 points for Esky. The Gladstone freshmen won 34-27.

Escanaba (7-11, 1-6 GNC) hosts Ishpeming, Thursday night while Gladstone (10-6, 4-3 GNC) hosts Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday.