ESCANABA - Looking up at a 20-point deficit is never fun. Not if you're the Escanaba Eskymos trailing the Gladstone Braves.
The Eskymos battled back, getting the ball down low to Brandon Robinette, but Gladstone's lead was never seriously threatened as it held on for a 78-66 Great Northern Conference victory.
"We had momentum at the end of the second quarter and Gladstone just answered and bumped the score back up," lamented Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson. "I was really happy with the way my kids played in the second half. We battled, we got what we wanted, but Gladstone is a good team. They played pretty well and there's no shame in losing to them."
Paul Gerard photo
Gladstone’s Blake Ballard (24) puts up a layup during the fourth quarter of their game against the Escanaba Eskymos Friday, in Escanaba. The Braves won, 78-66.
The Braves, sharing the wealth quite evenly amongst their starters and going deep into their bench throughout the game, built a 45-25 lead early in the third quarter. Three's began to drop for Michael Cretens and Jared Vuksan dominated from inside, frequently drawing the foul after the basket.
However, the Eskymos weren't done.
Rising to the occasion, Robinette powered his way to the net, taking feeds from Sam Molnar and Jamie HIltunen and making the most of it. With just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Gladstone's once seemingly insurmountable lead was cut to 69-61 as turnovers began mounting for the Braves against Escanaba's high-octane press.
Gladstone 20 19 19 20 - 78
Escanaba 15 10 22 19 - 66
Gladstone - R. Ballard 4, Kleiman 13, Pederson 2, Cretens 21, B. Ballard 11, Hunter 6, Vuksan 21. FT: 9-20; F: 23; Fouled out: Hunter; 3-point field goals: Kleiman, Cretens 4, B. Ballard 2.
Escanaba - Macon 3, Hiltunen 12, Kleiman 8, Molnar 11, Ogren 2, Robinette 26, LaPalm 2, Falish 2. FT: 14-24; F: 17; Fouled out: None; Technical Fouls: Ogren; 3-point field goals: Hiltunen 2, Kleiman 2, Molnar, Robinette
"We got a little rattled against their press, but it's a typical rivalry game where teams are going to make runs," said Gladstone coach Phil Griebel. "When we got the lead up to 20, I thought we had them. But they're a typical Tracy (Hudson) team. There's not quit in them, they just kept coming and coming, which I figured they would. In the back of mind, I kept thinking, I know they're going to come around."
The Braves had no answer for Robinette, who scored a game and career-high 26 points with 12 rebounds and four assists. The Eskymos big center battled it out all night with Vuksan for explosive results. The Braves center racked up four fouls guarding Robinette but remained in the game for key stretches, finishing with 21 points and 15 rebounds.
"(Brandon) is a good post player. He's quick, he's tall and he can finish well," said Vuksan, who was all smiles after defeating the Eskymos on their home court in back-to-back years.
"It feels very good," he said. "I'm excited to finish off my senior year, my last time playing here and getting a big win."
The Braves tried putting different players on Robinette but to no avail. Gladstone racked up 23 fouls in the game. Jared Hunter fouled out late in the fourth quarter and a handful of Braves carried three or four fouls.
Escanaba however, couldn't key in solely on Vuksan. Cretens had a season-high 21 points, with four triples, Kyle Kleiman scored 13 points and Blake Ballard had 11.
"We went nine or so deep on our bench and we did get some good contributions out of all of our players, so did Tracy," said Griebel. "The guys stepped up when they needed to. I think that was key to keeping our press going because we were able to rest a couple key guys."
Down the stretch, Gladstone was able to maintain, around a 10-point lead. Escanaba got on a few nice runs, but each time they seemed within striking distance, the Braves answered the call.
"The one thing we worried about with Gladstone is their physicality. They were able to get those big rebounds and they did a good job answering the bell every time we made a little run," said Hudson. "I thought the key for them was the beginning of the second half. They came out, Creten made a basket and they got it to Vuksan down low. They seemed to get that loose ball or rebound, that big play every time we got within nine or 10."
The Eskymos (1-3, 1-1 GNC) won the jayvee game 45-30 and the freshman game 54-18. On Tuesday, Escanaba travels to Marquette while Gladstone (2-1, 1-1 GNC) hosts Mid Peninsula.