ESCANABA - It came right down to the final minute, but some crucial free throws by Escanaba's Michelle LaFave allowed the Eskymos (1-1) to seal the deal and come away with a 48-45 victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Blue Devils (1-1) Saturday.
The first points of the contest came from a three-pointer by LaFave, and that one basket would turn out to be the difference.
Aggressive, quick play made for a somewhat chippy first half. Both teams had some trouble converting, and the first quarter ended with the Eskymos holding to a narrow 10-6 lead.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Codi Jenshak puts up a shot during the first quarter of their game against the Sault Ste. Marie Blue Devils Saturday. The Eskymos won, 48-45.
In the second quarter, there were only a handful of baskets made throughout, due in large part to strong defensive efforts from both teams. The Eskymos went to a press defense that seemed to stifle the scoring abilities of the Blue Devils, The lack of points was certainly not due to a lack of effort, as both teams were diving all over the floor for loose balls and playing very uptempo basketball.
The only basket of the quarter for the Blue Devils came on a fast break layup from Jessica Parmer, and Escanaba held a 16-8 lead at halftime.
Whatever it was that Sault coach Pat Bennin told his team in the locker room, it worked. Two quick baskets from Parmer and Logan Methner opened up the third quarter and chipped the deficit down to 16-12. Then Parmer and Kali Brosco each put in a three pointer, and all of a sudden, this was a ballgame again.
Escanaba 10 6 15 17 - 48
Sault St. Marie 6 2 19 18 - 45
Escanaba: Jenshak 15, Beauchamp 4, Gafner 7, Berquist 4, Fritz 2, LaFave 16; FT: 14-25; F: 22; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: LaFave
Sault St. Marie: Methner 6, Brosco 8, Krull 4, Parmer 11, Swan 1, Fitzpartick 9, Morley 5; FT: 11-19; F: 21; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Brosco 2, Parmer 2
The lead changed hands a few times as the quarter drew to a close, and then Escanaba's Codi Jenshak took the game over. She drove her way into the lane and made a tough shot, drawing the foul for the three-point play to boost the Eskymos up 25-21. However, the Blue Devils' Hayley Morley pulled off her own old fashioned three-point play to keep her team within striking distance.
As time wore down, the Eskymos once again went to Jenshak, who drove it right down the lane again to score the final points of the quarter and make it 31-27.
Things got really interesting in the fourth quarter. Escanaba padded their lead a little, but then the Sault's Parmer and Brosco hit two more triples, and once again it was neck and neck. The second three tied the game at 37. Sault was in control of the pace of the game.
However, some key plays from Escanaba's LaFave and Sydney Gafner ensured that the Blue Devils would not regain the lead again.
With under 30 seconds remaining, the Eskymos held a 46-45 advantage, but it was Sault Ste. Marie's basketball. They couldn't find the points they needed, and on the ensuing play from Escanaba, they were forced to foul LaFave, who made both free throws and put the game away.
"I thought it was good for our team to see that pressure, because that's the kind of pressure we're going to see throughout the season," said Escanaba coach Kelly O'Connell. "There are some things we need to clean up, but for a young team without much experience, we showed a lot of heart."
O'Connell added that he was impressed by the stature of his team down the stretch.
"We didn't collapse, we didn't fold," he said. "I'm so proud of the way we hung in there. We played against two very tough teams so far, and I'm happy to come out 1-1."
Blue Devils coach Pat Bennin said he had to give credit to Escanaba's defensive efforts, because it put his team in a place they didn't want to be.
"They forced us to put up some shots we weren't comfortable shooting, and we got ourselves in a hole and couldn't quite get out of it," he said.
He added that a little stronger defense might have made the difference in this contest.
"Our offense can't dictate our defense, our defense has to dictate our offense," Bennin said.
The Blue Devils jayvees won their game, 56-42.
The Eskymos resume Tuesday when they hit the road to play Negaunee.