Menominee’s Devon Harris sails in for a layup against Escanaba during their Class B district title game Friday. EagleHerald/Tom Kaeser
Menominee’s Devon Harris sails in for a layup against Escanaba during their Class B district title game Friday.
EagleHerald/Tom Kaeser
MENOMINEE - A defensive dagger by Ben Kleiman put the Madness of March to the boiling point for Escanaba and put a chilling end to Menominee's season Friday night.
With raucous student sections chanting back-and-forth, the Eskymos won the Class B, District 64 title with a thrilling 48-46 victory on the Maroon court.
The Eskymo seniors, who had taken their lumps the previous two seasons, got to savor the trophy they've been building toward.
"These kids have worked so hard," coach Tracy Hudson said. "We wanted it for them as a coaching staff because of how much we've enjoyed working with them. These kids believe in themselves."
Kleiman gave Escanaba a 48-46 lead with an inside hoop with 1:10 left in the game. Menominee had Adam Nolde set up for a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, but the scrambling Eskymo defense deflected the ball out of bounds.
The Maroons worked the clock down to seven seconds when Kleiman knifed in to steal a backcourt pass and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left to ice the win.
"(Devon Harris) was deep, so I knew they weren't' going to shoot it," Kleiman said of his game-saving play. "I just jumped (the pass). When I knew we were going to win, it was just joy."
Menominee coach Pete Pericolosi noted that Nolde was wide-open for a three before the Eskymos poked the ball away.
"We were setting up for a shot for Nolde," Pericolosi explained of the ill-fated last possession. "Kleiman made a great play."
Great Northern Conference player of the year Brandon Robinette muscled in his own rebound to give the Eskymos a 39-35 lead with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
The Maroons claimed their last lead of the game (44-43) when Tyler Howell knocked down a 3-pointer with 6:03 remaining.
Sam Molnar drove the baseline for two and added a free throw to reclaim the lead (46-44) for Esky with 5:04 left in the game.
The Eskymos rode an 8-2 run to take a 14-9 lead in the first quarter, but the Maroons launched a 3-point salvo to charge back in front.
Nolde drilled in a triple from the corner and freshman Marcus McKenney popped in back-to-back triples to vault Menominee to an 18-16 lead early in the second quarter.
Robinette went to work on the inside, using his quickness and height advantage to power in two shots and Sam Molnar and Tyler Skufka filled the net with 3-balls to propel Ecanaba to a 30-24 lead.
Tyler Clausen pumped in a rebound at the buzzer to trim the lead to 30-26 at haftime.
"I didn't think we defended very well in the first half," said Pericolosi. "In the second half our guards did a better job on Robinette."
Escanaba edged out to a 37-31 lead with 2:57 left in the third period, but the Maroons chipped the deficit to 41-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
"This is a big win for our program," said Hudson. "We were 10-0 against teams in our district. That's amazing. We were the favorite tonight, but Menominee is so competitive. That shows the character of their players and coaches."
Robinette led the Eskymos with 15 points and seven rebounds. Jordan Ogren and Molnar each had eight points and Kleiman added seven.
Escanaba was 16 of 39 from the floor and 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
Harris hustled down 10 rebounds, dished off eight assists, blocked three shots and had nine points.
Nolde led the Maroons with 12 points, including two 3-pointers, McKenney and Ty Clausen each had 10 points.
Menominee (8-12) connected on 16 of 47 shots and was 4 of 15 from the arc.
"With all the distractions - bad weather, illness, injuries, suspensions - the kids always played hard," said Pericolosi.
The loss ended the careers of Maroon seniors Harris, Ryan Woods, Clausen, Howell. Devon Barley and Nathaniel Gunderson.
ESCANABA (48) - Hiltunen 3, Robinette 15, Ogren 8, Kleiman 7, Molnar 8, Rodman 4, Skufka 3. FTs: 6-9
MENOMINEE (46) - McKenney 10, Woods 2, Harris 9, Barley 1, Nolde 12, Clausen 2, Howell 10. FTs: 10-14
Escanaba 14 16 11 8 - 49
Menominee 9 17 13 7 - 46