Kleiman, Eskymos pull out clutch win for district title
MENOMINEE – A defensive dagger by Ben Kleiman put the Madness of March to the boiling point for Escanaba and put a chilling end to Menominee’s season Friday night.
With raucous student sections of both schools chanting back-and-forth, the Eskymos won the Class B, District 64 title with a thrilling 48-46 victory on the Maroon court.
The Eskymo seniors, who had taken their lumps the previous two seasons, got to savor the trophy they’ve been building toward
“These kids have worked so hard,” coach Tracy Hudson said. “We wanted it for them as a coaching staff because of how much we’ve enjoyed working with them. These kids believe in themselves.”
Kleiman gave Escanaba its 48-46 lead with an inside hoop with 1:10 left in the game. Menominee had Adam Nolde set up for a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, but the scrambling Eskymo defense deflected the ball out of bounds, sealing Escanaba’s first district title since 2009.
“(Devon Harris) was deep, so I knew they weren’t going to shoot it,” Kleiman said of his game-saving play. “I just jumped (the pass). When I knew we were going to win, it was just joy.”
Menominee coach Pete Pericolosi noted that Nolde was wide-open for a three before the Eskymos poked the ball away.
“We were setting up for a shot for Nolde,” Pericolosi explained of the ill-fated last possession. “Kleiman made a great play.”
Great Northern Conference player of the year, Brandon Robinette, muscled in his own rebound to give the Eskymos a 39-35 lead with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
The Maroons claimed their last lead of the game (44-43) when Tyler Howell knocked down a 3-pointer with 6:03 remaining.
Sam Molnar drove the baseline for two and added a free throw to reclaim the lead (46-44) for Esky with 5:04 left in the game.
The Eskymos rode an 8-2 run to a 14-9 lead in the first quarter, but the Maroons launched a 3-point salvo to charge back in front.
Nolde drilled in a triple from the corner and freshman Marcus McKenney popped in back-to-back triples to vault Menominee to an 18-16 lead early in the second quarter.
Robinette went to work on the inside, using his quickness and height advantage to power in two shots and Sam Molnar and Tyler Skufka filled the net with 3-balls to propel Ecanaba to a 30-24 lead.
Tyler Clausen pumped in a rebound at the buzzer to trim the lead to 30-26 at haftime.
“I didn’t think we defended very well in the first half,” said Pericolosi. “In the second half our guards did a better job on Robinette.”
Escanaba edged out to a 37-31 lead with 2:57 left in the third period, but the Maroons chipped the deficit to 41-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
Led by Ben Zindler, the leader of the Escanaba student section, the Esky fans mobbed their players after the nerve-wracking win.
“This is a big win for our program,” said Hudson. “We were 10-0 against teams in our district. That’s amazing. I knew it would be a battle tonight. We talked about playing with passion and determination. I thought we did that the whole game.”
Robinette led the Eskymos with 15 points and seven rebounds. Jordan Ogren and Molnar each had eight points and Kleiman added seven.
Escanaba was 16 of 39 from the floor and 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
Harris hustled down 10 rebounds, dished off eight assists, blocked three shots and had nine points.
Nolde led the Maroons with 12 points, including two 3-pointers, McKenney and Ty Clausen each had 10 points.
Menominee (8-12) connected on 16 of 47 shots and were 4 of 15 from the arc.
“With all the distractions – bad weather, illness, injuries, suspensions – the kids always played hard,” said Pericolosi.
The Eskymos (17-5) will play Cadillac (16-6) in the regional semifinals at Petoskey Monday.