EagleHerald Sports Editor
ESCANABA—It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Menominee girls basketball team was able to shake off the rust in the fourth quarter and finished the game on a 12-5 run to secure a 53-46 season-opening victory over Escanaba on Friday.
“It’s been very difficult getting prepared for the season and practicing with the intensity we like to with only having a few days of contact practice, so we came out a little sluggish defensively,” Menominee coach Lucas Chouinard said. “But the girls perservered, did a wonderful adjusting in the second half to what Esky was doing and we really gained some momentum in the fourth quarter and that propelled us to a win tonight.”
The Eskymos took a 4-1 lead to start the game as Menominee got good looks at the basket but the shots just wouldn’t fall in the early going until a basket from Emma Anderson and a short jumper from Jenna Nolde knotted the game at five.
Two Maroon starters—Josie Hofer and Makenzie Wellner—picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, with Hofer exiting with 4:29 to play and Wellner with 3:50 as the Eskymos grabbed a 9-6 lead on a drive from Carney Salo and a lefty-layup from Nicole Kamin.
With just over 1:30 remaining in the first quarter, Erin Barrette spotted up for an open 3-pointer against Esky’s zone defense and splashed one home to tie the game at nine.
Menominee grabbed a lead to start the second quarter as Anna Nerat canned a triple from the wing and Barrette hit a deep pull-up trey after losing her dribble to take a 15-11 advantage.
After an Escanaba miss from the free throw line, Anderson made a nice move in the post for an easy layup, but from that point on the Eskymos ended the final five minutes on an 11-1 run to head into halftime with a 22-18 advantage over the Maroons.
“I think sometimes with the success we’ve had in the past, the girls think teams might lay down for us when it’s actually the complete opposite,” Chouinard said. “Teams are going to be gunning for us and we just have to be prepared from the opening inbound.”
It took a little while for Anderson, the reigning U.P. Player of the Year, to get going as she scored just five first-half points and couldn’t get the lid off the basket from the outside, but once she saw one go down she didn’t look back.
Her first bucket of the second half came on the inside after a nice pass from Barrette to cut the deficit to 26-24, then she answered an Esky triple with one of her own from the top of the key as the Maroons called timeout with 3:12 left in the third to give her team a little momentum.
That carried out of the timeout as on the Maroons next trip down she hit another trey, this time from the corner in transition, but again Esky answered with a triple of their own.
“Once the first (3-pointer) went down I was just relieved because I just couldn’t make a shot in the first half,” Anderson said. “So when I started to hit some I think it started to give us a little energy and helped us get through the funk we were in.”
Not to be outdone, Barrette came down the floor after an Esky basket to retake the lead and walked into a pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key that banked off the glass and went in to retake the lead and swing the momentum back in Menominee’s favor.
Esky’s Kamin answered with a drive to the basket, but the lead wouldn’t stay with the Eskymos long as Anderson dropped in her third 3-pointer of the quarter to go up 36-34.
“You knew eventually it was going to come around for Emma. She struggled in the first half there and you could see the frustration a little, but credit her for sticking with it. She’s a great player, she got to her spots inside to gain some confidence then found her outside shot and hit some big three’s in that third quarter,” Chouinard said.
Menominee looked like it would extend its lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Barrette was tripped near mid-court and lost the ball as Kamin scooped it up and drove in for an easy layup to tie the game at 36 heading into the final eight minutes.
Salo dropped in a triple to take a 39-36 lead to begin the fourth, but Menominee’s Kennedy Olson split a pair of free throws and Anderson and Wellner scored baskets to take a 41-39 lead as Kamin once again tied the score on the other end with a strong take to the hoop.
With just under four minutes to play and the score still tied at 41, Barrette came up with the play of the game for the Maroons.
On a loose ball down by Menominee’s basket, Barrette fought through a couple different Escanaba players to keep the ball in the Maroons’ possession. With the ball out on the perimeter, Barrette respotted in the corner where she had a wide-open look at the hoop, and as soon as she shot it she knew it was in as the ball dropped through the iron to give the Maroons a 44-41 lead and swing all the momentum over to Menominee’s side as Esky called timeout with 3:19 to play.
“I’m just trying to bring the energy to each game, try to get us going and just have fun,” Barrette said. “I had the confidence going to take that shot, and after it went in I knew we were on a roll and ready to close out the game.”
“Erin is like a coach on the floor for me,” Chouinard said. “She gets the girls in the spots they need to be to be successful, and she gets her team fired up and ready to go on the floor. She set the tone for that run we had in the fourth quarter.”
13 seconds after Barrette gave the Maroons some breathing room, Wellner came up with another huge play as she came up with a loose ball after a scuffle and put the ball up for a basket and a chance at a three-point play. She made the free throw to hike the lead to 47-41.
Two free throws each from Barrette and Wellner looked like it would seal the win for Menominee with the score at 51-41, but Esky wouldn’t quit as Mari Bink knocked down a triple and Esky came up with a steal on the ensuing fullcourt press leading to a Kamin layup to cut the deficit to 51-46 with 20 seconds left.
Hofer received the ball on the inbounds for the Maroons, and she went to the line with 14.7 seconds left, sinking both to ice the game for the Maroons.
“Something we practice all the time whether it’s game situations or just practice is free throws,” Chouinard said. “Credit to the girls for making the shots when they needed to because if you miss a couple you never know what can happen.”
Anderson led the Maroons with 18 points (13 in second half) while Barrette added 15.
Menominee (1-0 overall, 1-0 GNC) will now play at Bark River-Harris in a non-conference game tonight after a trip to Kingsford on Monday night.