Balanced Blue Devils top Esky for title
ESCANABA — Sault High was missing a key piece of the puzzle — injured senior Cecelia Werner — in its quest to win a Class B district championship.
But the Blue Devils definitely had all the other pieces in place as they cruised to a 62-48 district title victory Friday against host Escanaba.
Sault (16-5), which avenged a 38-37 loss to the Eskymos in the season opener, advances to the regional Tuesday at Cheboygan to face top-ranked unbeaten Kingsley. The Stags defeated Kalkaska 58-39 for their district title.
Werner, the talented post player who’s been sidelined with a knee injury and headed to Grand Valley State to play, watched her teammates break open the game by outscoring the Eskymos 26-11 in the middle two quarters.
“(Werner) got hurt, but our kids have fought through adversity all year,” Sault coach Pat Bennin said. “That is special for them.
“A lot of these kids have been playing three or four years. We’ve had a bugaboo come district time and haven’t been able to get over the top. It’s really big for them to get this opportunity. I’m so happy for our seniors and so happy for these kids who’ve worked hard all year.”
Sault had all the pieces with a balanced attack and four players scoring in double figures — Melina Robertson and Mackenzie Kalchik produced 12 points apiece and Ashtyn Bell and Julia Beaumont contributed 11 apiece.
The Blue Devils charged out to a 15-5 early lead only to see Escanaba respond with a 14-0 run en route to a 19-18 first-quarter lead.
But Sault took control of the game with an impressive 13-0 run, outscoring the Eskymos 14-4 in the second quarter on its way to a 32-23 halftime lead.
Esky (10-12) couldn’t make up any ground in the second half and the Blue Devils raced to their coveted district crown.
“We made a great run in the first quarter and got the energy up to where we needed to play,” Esky coach Mike Beveridge said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t play four quarters at that intense level. It’s a very good Sault team. They are very well coached and very disciplined. They have good skill.
“They executed everything well. They had good pressure defense. We struggled with it. The second quarter I don’t know if my girls got tired or tentative.”
Junior guard Cassidi Stannard led the Eskymos with a game-high 19 points, followed by point guard Lexi Chaillier with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists and Savannah Barron with eight points. Freshman Nicole Kamin also grabbed seven rebounds and added three steals and two assists.
Bennin said his team had a wake-up call after Esky’s initial first-quarter run.
“We didn’t really make adjustments,” Bennin said. “We just talked about playing better defense and not allowing paint touches in the second quarter. I thought Julia Beaumont and (Victoria) Nagy did an outstanding job on their freshman Kamin.
“And Mackenzie did a good job on (Chaillier) and we stopped their penetration. We knew they would make a run because they always make a run. We were able to weather the storm and hold on.”
Sault increased its lead to 44-30 after three quarters and had its largest lead at 58-37 midway through the fourth quarter.
Both teams shot
Beveridge said his team may have been physically and mentally drained after a pulling out a thrilling 49-48 win against Gladstone Wednesday night in the semifinals.
“I don’t think we wanted to think it, but it was,” he said. “I think they gave everything to beat Gladstone and that probably completed mentally their season. To get back up to play with that intensity against a good team, it’s just tough to do. I’m not making excuses because we lost to a good team, but I think it’s a part of it.”
Esky has a solid nucleus returning next season and Beveridge hopes the loss to the Sault will be a learning lesson.
“I’m very excited and we have a couple of sophomores coming up who will help out,” Beveridge said. “I think the future is bright for next year. I told them, ‘You saw that (district trophy) presentation, that could be ours next year. I think we have the talent to do it.”
Sault 18 14 12 18 — 62
Escanaba 19 4 7 18 — 48
Sault — Robertson 12, Kalchik 12, Andary 2, Nagy 4, Gage 7, Wilhelms 3, Bell 11, Beaumont 11. FT: 16-21; F: 17; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Robertson, Kalchik, Beaumont 2.
Escanaba — Kamin 6, Monkevich 3, Chaillier 10, Stannard 19, Barron 8, Griffin 2. FT: 14-20; F: 19; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Stannard 2.