ESCANABA - Senior Carlee Benzie scored what seemed like a quiet 20 points to go with five assists Tuesday night, leading the Kingsford girls to a 45-36 basketball triumph over the Escanaba Eskymos.
Benzie hit at least five points in the fourth quarter of this Great Northern Conference match-up, including a layup to give Kingsford a 36-32 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left to play. She also hit a trio of free throws in the final 88 seconds to help the Flivvers preserve their victory.
"Carlee has been with us for three years and tends to have a calming effect on our other girls in tight games," said Kingsford coach Mike Cross. "She holds her composure real well."
Esky led 30-28 after the third quarter, but committed six turnovers against Kingsford's full-court pressure in the fourth.
"Their pressure got to us at times," said Esky coach Kelly O'Connell. "Benzie's quickness also gave us some problems. Yet, there were times we handled their press well. We just missed so many easy shots. Kingsford is the type of team that's going to wear you down, which can sometimes cause opposing players to get frustrated."
The Eskymos, who had some success breaking Kingsford's press in the first half, led 21-16 at the intermission.
Kingsford 7 9 12 17 - 45
Escanaba 4 17 9 6 - 36
Kingsford - Fleming 9, Benzie 20, Roell 9, Tresedder 4, Qualley 3. FT: 10-14; F: 13; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Fleming, Benzie, Qualley.
Escanaba - Jenshak 5, Beauchamp 1, Cook 12, Gafner 2, Berquist 2, Fritz 2, LaFave 12. FT: 5-14; F: 15; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Cook 2, LaFave.
Esky's lead grew to 24-16 on a 21-foot set shot from the right wing by sophomore Michelle LaFave just 35 seconds into the third stanza. The Eskymos, however, were unable to extend their advantage.
"Our press probably hurt us in the first half," said Cross. "Escanaba does a nice job passing the ball and Michelle got some easy baskets. They also shot well in the first half. We just got after them better in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. I thought we also rebounded better and became more aggressive on offense in the second half."
Seniors Samantha Fleming and Andrea Roell, who drew the assignment of guarding LaFave, added nine points apiece for the Flivvers (11-3 overall, 4-1 GNC). Roell also picked up her third foul just 75 seconds in the third frame, but didn't commit any more infractions through the remainder of the contest.
"I thought Andrea did a nice job on Michelle," said Cross. "She's also a phenomenal ballet dancer and is much stronger than she looks. The good thing about Andrea is she's smart enough to play with foul trouble and not pick up the extra fouls. Andrea has come a long way this year. She's a very disciplined player."
Kingsford sophomore Courtney Qualley slid while chasing a loose ball and struck the back of her head on the leg of a folding chair (on the Esky bench) midway through the third quarter. She was unable to stay in the game. The Flivvers also played without sophomore Amber Larson, who was ill.
Junior guard Ashley Cook hit a career-high 12 points for Esky (3-12 overall, 1-5 league). LaFave, who sat with four fouls the final 1:39 of the third stanza and first two minutes of the fourth, also had 12 points.
"When we get Ashley going, it helps," said O'Connell. "And tonight she stepped up and hit some shots. But having Michelle in foul trouble hurt us. We also had some costly turnovers tonight."
Esky held a 28-25 rebounding edge, hit 14-of-50 field goals and finished with 21 turnovers. Kingsford sank 16-of-43 shots and had 17 miscues.
The Eskymos, who host Calumet Thursday, also dropped the jayvee game (52-31) and won the freshman contest (45-36). Kingsford travels to top-ranked Marquette Thursday.