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Game… Gladstone: Braves end regular season with rivalry win over Escanaba

“The Big Dog” Mitch Vosburg Daily Press Gladstone senior Nick Matthews (in white) celebrates with senior John Soderman as the student mobs the floor after a Great Northern Conference game against Escanaba on Feb. 24, 2024 at Gladstone High School. With a 49-46 win, the Braves defeated the Eskymos for the first time since Dec. 12, 2024.

Editor’s note: The following article was updated at 7:51 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 to correct an error.

GLADSTONE –For the first time since Feb. 28, 2020, Gladstone boys’ basketball earned a win over Escanaba.

The Braves mustered the final push in a 49-45 Great Northern Conference win on Senior Night over the Eskymos to conclude the 2023-24 regular season. Gladstone finishes at 9-13 overall and 1-7 in GNC play. Esky finishes at 9-12 overall and 1-7 in GNC action.

“It means a lot to those guys,” Braves coach Jake Kiesby said. “I’m proud of them. They worked hard, and it’s a great way to end the season for them.

“They deserve it.”

With the game tied at 41 with 2:21 to go, Braves’ senior Drak Johnson connected with his lone 3-pointer of the game to claim a 44-41 lead. The Eskymos dribbled the ball down to their end of the floor and called timeout with 2:14 remaining.

With Esky opting to go with a smaller, faster lineup down the stretch, junior center Cody Noel was swapped out for fellow junior Alex Morgan. The move proved to be effective.

Morgan connected in the paint to pull within one point with 1:53 remaining. Morgan needed 21 seconds to make another impact play, coming up with a crucial block on the Braves’ ensuing possession.

“Alex Morgan played the game of his life coming in and playing for Cody,” Esky coach Scott Hanson said. “Give Cody credit for hanging in there on the bench. He kept a good attitude. Morgan made plays.”

Gladstone senior Kaden Gobbs connected with a jumper with 1:25 to go to give the home team a 46-43 lead.

Then Esky junior Javon Stevenson entered the chat.

The Braves thought they had a defensive rebound under the net. Stevenson swiped it away like a child sneaking a snickerdoodle out of the cookie jar and connected with a layup to make it a 46-45 ball game with 1:07 left.

After both teams failed to add on to the score while burning a timeout, Gladstone got a crucial bucket. This time it was a layup from senior Nick Matthews with 25 seconds remaining to give the Braves a 48-45 lead.

The ball went into the hands of Morgan on the ensuing offensive possession. But the junior traveled with the ball, giving the Braves possession of the costly turnover with 9.9 seconds left.

Gibbs was fouled 0.6 seconds later to go to the line. He missed the first free throw. But, he made the second gifter for a 49-45 lead.

The Eskymos tried, but couldn’t muster a response as the Braves earned the win.

“It’s incredible,” Braves’ senior Kaden Gibbs said. “Not many teams expect much from us, especially when you got a new coach and we only had six guys there for a while. Everyone expects not much of us because we only have six guys, but we try to bring it every night and just play hard.”

As for any rivalry game, Friday’s game was nip and tuck with each team finding momentum sways.

Esky claimed an 18-14 lead after one quarter, but the Braves exploded in the second stanza.

With a layup from senior Thomas Tackman, a jumper from Senior Luke Bracket, a floater from Johnson and a triple from Gibbs, the Braves claimed a 23-20 lead off the 9-2 run.

Both squads traded blows, but Gladstone came out with the final push to end the second stanza. With a jumper from Johnson, a successful putback from Matthews and a layup from Johnson that beat the buzzer by milliseconds, the Braves carried a 33-26 lead into intermission.

Early in the third frame Bracket made a play which sent the home crowd into a tizzy. For the second-straight home contest, Bracket came away with a slam dunk, this time it gave the Braves a 37-28 lead.

But the Eskymos had a response.

Noel successfully completed a 3-point play. Senior Shane Wallin knocked down a pair of free throws. Senior David Romps scored in the paint to pull within four points entering the fourth quarter.

The orange and black didn’t ease up to start the fourth.

Wallin drained another pair of free throws. Senior Ben Johnson and Romps knocked down layups, capping a 13-2 run to claim a 41-39 lead with 5:25 to go.

“Disappointed we came out on the wrong end. They made a few more plays than us,” Hanson said. “I thought a couple of times during the game (Gladstone) could’ve pulled away, and we answered.”

With the regular season officially over, both teams can focus on their district openers.

For the Braves, it’s a home game against Houghton at 6 p.m. Monday. The purple and white know they’ll see a 2-3 zone, but they also enter Monday with momentum.

“It’s a great transition game to go into districts,” Kiesby said. “Obviously, going into districts with a win, our confidence will be higher.”

For Esky, it’s a rematch with Negaunee at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Escanaba. The Miners defeated Esky 66-51 in Negaunee on Dec. 5, 2023.

“It’s been a long season for both of us,” Hanson said. “Usually this time here you find out who wants to keep playing in the playoffs. A lot of times it’s the ability of a team. A lot of times it’s who wants to still keep playing. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Box Score

Escanaba 18 8 9 10 – 45

Gladstone 14 19 6 10 – 49

Escanaba: Wallin 15, Noel 11, Romps 6, Stevenson 4, Morgan 4, Peacock 3, Johnson 2; FT: 9-11; Fouls: 10; Fouled out: None; 3-pointers: Wallin 3, Peacock 1

Gladstone: Johnson 19, Gibbs 15, Matthews 6, Bracket 4, Gereau 3, Tackman 2; T: 4-8; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: None; 3-pointers: Gereau 1, Gibbs 1, Johnson 1

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