Esky falls short in the fourth against Bearcats
CORUNNA — A season 61 years in the making for the Escanaba Eskymos boys’ basketball team (17-3) came to an end Tuesday night at the hands of the talented Bridgeport Bearcats (17-2) with a 52-41 loss in an MHSAA Division 2 state quarterfinal in Corunna.
The appearance in a state quarterfinal was the first for the Eskymos since 1960.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever coached in my 24 years at Escanaba,” said Eskymos coach Tracy Hudson following the game. “We were two quarters away from the final four. This is the closest we’ve ever been. So, I’m very thankful to be able to coach these guys. They’re fun to coach in practice. They work hard. They’ve won a conference, they’ve won a district and they’ve won a regional. They got three championships under their belt, and they were two quarters away from getting to a semifinal. I’m going to celebrate their accomplishments. We lost to a good, good team. A very athletic team.”
The game came down to who could put together the best fourth quarter. With eight minutes on the clock, the Eskymos and Bearcats sat tied at 32 thanks to a Brandon Frazer three in the dying seconds of the third for Esky.
It wasn’t long after the start of the quarter — 10 seconds — that the Bearcats took the lead and put momentum on their side with a nine-point run to make it 41-32. While Escanaba was able to scrape together nine more points, Bridgeport kept the ball rolling to put up 20 points in the quarter.
In the first half, the Eskymos had things mostly under control as they led 28-24 heading into the locker room.
“I think in the first half, we were kind of playing our game,” said Hudson. “The second half, they kind of crawled into us a little more. We made some mistakes with some turnovers, and it just affected our offense.
“We weren’t as efficient — our shots stopped falling. They just turned up the pressure on us, and we didn’t execute as well. It got away from us a little bit.”
The game, in spite of the result, still held a special moment for one of the Escanaba seniors.
With the last shot of the game — and of his high school basketball career — Erik Victorson hit the 1,000 point mark with a picture-perfect three. At the start of the night, he needed 16 to hit the goal, and that’s where he ended the night.
“It’s really special,” said Victorson who joined the Eskymos at the beginning of this year. “Starting out my freshman year, it was one of those goals that seemed unattainable. Coming out of my junior year, I was pretty close. But, coming up here, on a team with a lot of talent, you’re not going get as many shots because you got a lot of talent and people who can put the ball in the hoop.”
Victorson said the moment was extra meaningful as he is the first member of his family to achieve the 1,000 mark.
“Even though it was at the end there, and we had already kind of lost the game, it’s really special to me and my family because I’m the first kid in the family to (hit 1,000),” he said. “And honoring my cousin Will Kellerman. I know he’d be really proud of me right now. It’s really special.”
Victorson also had high praise for the Bearcats program.
“They are super fast, super athletic. You can’t really slow them down because they’re just going to get what they want,” he said. “They’re tough man. They’re a really good team. They’re really well coached and know what they’re doing.”
Colin Hudson also hit double digits for the Eskymos, scoring 13. With seven rebounds, he was just three shy of a double-double.
One of the strongest attributes of the Bridgeport boys is their combination of speed and agility to move the ball by foot or air.
Bearcats coach Kevin Marshall Sr. said this is something they have focused on over the past several years, utilizing a drill that emphasizes quick ball movement.
“In practice, we have (a clock). It’s like a (half-second) decision. You have to make the decision. Are you going to go with the ball, or are you going to pass the ball? It has to happen like that,” Marshall said as he snapped his fingers. “Baylor uses that method, and we kind of adopted the same thing … I just love the intensity, and that’s how we’ve been doing things that last six years since I’ve been here.”
The game was a redemption of sorts for the Bearcats, who move on to play Battle Creek Pennfield Thursday.
“We came here (Corunna) my first year as varsity coach, and we lost against New Haven,” he said. “We lost to them here on this court.
“We’re the third Bridgeport team to make it to the final four, and we want to be the first to win the championship. So, we’re going to work hard and go after it.”
Jaylen Hodges — who shared some friendly banter and a postgame embrace with the Escanaba student section — had 19 points to lead the Bearcats in scoring.
While the Eskymos had their eyes set past the quarterfinals, the significance of making it to the elite eight was not lost on coach Hudson.
“I think, after tonight, it’s really going to mean a lot,” he chuckled. “I think tonight’s going to be a tough one. You know, I just think it shows we can do it. I felt we had a little bit of everything. We had some size. We had some ball handling. We had a good bench, but we just didn’t get it done tonight.
“We didn’t come down here to pretend. We came down here to win it. And I think we showed that we were here to win it. We weren’t here to just participate … I’m proud of my kids for the type of people they are and how far they got. And that’s teamwork.”
Bridgeport 16 8 8 20 — 52
Escanaba 18 10 4 9 — 41
Bridgeport — Hodges 19, Pipkins 9, Wilkins 7, Arthur 6, Pickett 5, Rohelia 2, Page 2, Martin 2; F: 10; FT: 11-19; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Hodges 2, Pipkins.
Escanaba — Victorson 16, Colin Hudson 13, Carter Hudson 9, Frazer 3; F: 17; FT: 3-6; Fouled out: Carter Hudson.