Hot Braves burn Eskymos
Castor sparks Gladstone in district opener
ESCANABA — Don’t forget basketball fans, Gladstone is the defending Class B boys’ district tournament champions.
And, according to Reece Castor and Dane Quigley, the Braves don’t plan to allow any other team to get their hands on this year’s trophy.
Gladstone took the first step toward a district repeat with a convincing 81-72 win Monday against bayshore rival Escanaba before about 1,750 fans at EHS.
“We came back after that first loss (to Escanaba) and we got the last two,” said Castor, the explosive junior who led the way with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists. “Now we’re still in the hunt for the district championship. I feel like we have the best chance now. We were there last year and we have a lot of our players back. I just think we have what it takes to go back again this year.”
Gladstone advances to the district semifinals Wednesday to face host Kingsford at 7 p.m. EST.
The Braves (15-5) are one of the hottest teams in the U.P. They lost to Escanaba 75-57 in December and beat the Eskymos 78-66 on Feb. 23.
Beating Kingsford for a shot at hosting the district championship Friday night is not out of the question for Gladstone.
“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but we’ve been playing some darn good basketball here the last couple of games,” said Quigley, the Braves’ first-year head coach. “I would have to say we are pretty scary right now.
“We will turn all of our attention now to Kingsford on Wednesday. That’s a team that played us tough throughout the year, so we will have a game plan for them and hopefully we’ll be playing for a district championship on Friday.”
Gladstone swept the Flivvers 65-57 and 75-68 in the regular season.
Escanaba showed up ready to battle in the rubber game against the Braves. Coach Tracy Hudson reached into his bag of tricks and put the Eskymos in a gadget defense to slow down Gladstone’s “Big Three” — Brad Spindler, Rudy Peterson and Castor. Three Eskymos played man-to-man on Spindler, Peterson and Castor and the other two defenders played a 1-1 zone.
“We called it our purple defense,” Hudson said. “We were trying to guard three and line up with the ball with our other two guys. We tried to build a wall where we weren’t going to give up the 3 and we weren’t going to give up the layup. We did a pretty good job with it, but late in the second quarter when we subbed, we didn’t really execute it like we worked on it and they made their run.
“(Braeden) Lamberg and (Jared) Ness did enough to hurt us. They found some seams, they found some cracks. We wanted those two to kind of beat us and they made enough baskets.”
Lamberg contributed nine points for the Braves and Ness produced 12 points to complement Castor, Spindler (12 points, five assists) and Peterson (17 points).
Esky bolted to an early 19-9 lead, but Gladstone regrouped after a timeout and finished with a 10-4 run to trail 23-19 after the first quarter.
“I know Tracy and I knew he would come up with something to rattle us,” Quigley said. “It worked. We were a little rattled at the beginning, but once we had it figured out, we were OK. There were some nerves and our guys settled down. After that it was just playing basketball and that’s what those guys do and we put some points on the board.”
Gladstone’s key run of 13-2 came to open the second quarter. The Braves soon took the lead and built it to 34-29. They added a 6-0 run to close out the quarter and earn a 41-33 advantage at halftime.
Castor had 17 points at the half, including 15 in the second quarter to spark the Braves.
Peterson, who hit three of his four 3-pointers in the third quarter, helped the Braves push the lead to 61-49 entering the fourth quarter.
Castor scored 10 points to help the Braves finish strong and hold back the Eskymos’ comeback attempt.
Esky junior Jared Nash gave the Braves fits as he erupted for a career-high 32 points and 14 rebounds. Senior point guard Ryan Robinette closed out his career with 21 points and five assists. And junior Austin Willette contributed 11 points and four rebounds while playing with foul trouble early in the second quarter.
“I think we played well,” Nash said. “We came out better defensively this game than we did the last game. Offensively, we missed some opportunities. A couple times on defense they did get the better of us. They have Rudy who can shoot the lights out. They have some drivers with Reece and Brad. It’s tough out there.”
Esky shot 40 percent from the field, out-rebounded Gladstone 32-23 and had seven turnovers. The Braves shot 58 percent from the field, making 10-of-19 3-pointers, with 12 turnovers.
Hudson said the Eskymos just didn’t have enough to cool off the hot Braves.
“The one guy we didn’t hold down was Castor and he had 31,” Hudson said. “We just weren’t able to slow them down enough. Willette getting in foul trouble kind of hurt us a little bit because he was doing pretty good offensively. We made some mistakes in ball handling and defensive transition. I was proud of the kids effort and what we accomplished this year.
“You just want to survive and advance and stay in March Madness and we weren’t able to do that. But we lost to a very good team. It’s never easy. This is a tossup game and they executed better than we did.”
Gladstone 19 22 20 20 — 81
Escanaba 23 10 16 23 — 72
Gladstone — Lamberg 9, Peterson 17, Spindler 12, Ness 12, Castor 31. FT: 11-18; F: 17; Fouled out: Spindler; 3-point field goals: Lamberg, Peterson 4, Spindler, Ness 2, Castor 2.
Escanaba — Robinette 21, Kamin 5, Willis 2, Nash 32, Willette 11, Hudson 1. FT: 16-21; F: 20; Fouled out: Kamin. 3-point field goals: Robinette 2, Kamin, Nash.