LaFave carries Esky past Hematites

ESCANABA – Escanaba girls basketball coach Dena Fedell likes to borrow from Baylor University head coach Kim Mulkey’s post philosophy.

“The Baylor coach always said If my power forward or center doesn’t see the ball 70 times a game than we don’t have a game,” she noted. “So keep getting into her because she knows how to draw the fouls.”

Escanaba junior center Michelle LaFave responded with a Brittney Griner like game, pouring in 30 points and snagging 16 rebounds to pace the Eskymos past Ishpeming 56-50 on Thursday night.

“Michelle LaFave is a heck of a basketball player,” said Ishpeming head coach Tom Graves. “30 points and she dominated inside, outside and made all her free throws. She’s a presence defensively inside and we just didn’t have an answer for her.”

LaFave recorded three blocks but also picked up three fouls in the first half. She sat briefly in the second quarter but returned in the third and fourth quarters to score 18 points.

“I had to stay aggressive and play but I have to focus on not bending my arms; keeping myself straight up,” LaFave said. “I had to focus on not fouling. You still have to play aggressive though, you can’t just let them take it to the hoop.”

LaFave did stay aggressive, even with four fouls. Eskymo guard Lynsey Collins found LaFave on a backdoor cut with 2:10 left to tie the game at 47-47. On the next possession LaFave blocked Kaylie Engler’s shot and found a streaking Collins who was fouled and converted her lay-up attempt to give the Eskymos a 49-47 lead.

After Collins’ basket, Esky never trailed again. Earlier they fell behind by as many as five points in a fourth quarter that saw six lead changes and two ties. Collins, a senior, chipped in eight points in the fourth after being held to six points in the first three quarters.

“The seniors know this is the second to last (regular season) game they have to play,” Fedell said. “I said how bad do you want to fight for it, how bad do you want to win? It ultimately comes down to that.”

The Hematites gave Escanaba fits in the first half as their full court press and man-to-man defense forced 20 turnovers. Ishpeming wasn’t able take advantage however as they trailed 25-22 at the half.

“We had a lot of opportunities but we just didn’t finish our lay-ups,” Graves said. “This was something that got us earlier in the season against Negaunee when we missed 25 against them in a two-point loss.

“Part of that is the presence, they’re a big physical team inside and I think that was part of it but we still have to learn and understand that tournament time is right around the corner and we’ve got to be able to finish those shots.”

The Hematities also struggled to finish at the free throw line as they shot 12-of-25. Escanaba on the other hand finished 19-of-22 from the line, including an 11-of-11 performance from LaFave.

“That’s our motto, free throws and rebounds win games,” Fedell said. “If you get the (defensive) rebound you’re not going to give them that second shot, if we get the (offensive) rebound, we’re getting that second shot. That’s what it comes down to. Hats off to these girls, they’ve worked hard and we practice them multiple times a day.”

Ishpeming edged Escanaba 62-61 in double overtime earlier this season. The Eskymos closed the game on a 13-4 run to preserve the victory Thursday night.

“I’m just really proud of my team, we’ve struggled a lot in the fourth quarter and tonight we pulled it through and we kept fighting,” LaFave said. “When they got ahead we kept fighting and came back and I’m really proud of my entire team.”

With the win, Escanaba improves to 7-11. They close their regular season out next Thursday at home against Menominee. Ishpeming drops to 12-5. They travel to Gwinn this Saturday. Escanaba won the jayvee contest 54-47.