Viitala leads No. 1 Redettes over Eskymos

ESCANABA – Tried as they might, the Escanaba Eskymos couldn’t keep Hunter Viitala and the Marquette Senior High School basketball team down for long.

The U.P.’s top-ranked Redettes (8-2, 4-0 GNC) used a second half surge to put the Eskymos (2-6, 0-2) away 52-35 Tuesday night in a Great Northern Conference matchup.

The Redettes began the game cold as the Eskymos came out putting pressure on Marquette’s shooters. Lynsey Collins was assigned to defend Viitala most of the night and held her to eight first-half points.

“They tried to take Viitala out of the game so we had to make adjustments,” said MSHS coach Ben Smith. “As the game went one, we did a good job taking advantage of what was there.”

The Redettes had only scored nine points 10 minutes into the game, but over the next 22 minutes, they racked up 43 points.

Already playing without Courtney LaFreniere, the Redettes were missing another senior in Morgan Seibert who was out with the flu, ending a streak of 30 consecutive games started.

Starting three sophomores on the road, Marquette made it work anyway.

In a first quarter that ended with Escanaba holding a tentative 6-5 lead, the Eskymos made the most of their few opportunities. Codi Jenshak opened the scoring and Escanaba took a 6-2 lead on buckets from Sydney Gafner and Michelle LaFave before Viitala hit a triple with 28 seconds left in the quarter.

Two minutes into the second, the Redettes led 9-6 before both teams began to break out on offense. The Eskymos surged ahead on back-to-back buckets on a jumper from Ashley Cook and a putback from LaFave after she came down with a rebound on her own missed shot. After a Redettes’ free throw, LaFave hit two triples with Shayla Huebner answering in between. The Redettes ended the half with a triple from Liana Storm and a Kirsten Iwanski field goal to carry a 19-16 lead into the break.

“It was close at the half. We put a box-and-one on Viitala and limited her,” said Esky coach Kelly O’Connell. “Marquette is a very good shooting team though. They’re No. 1 for a reason, but we battled them. I’m proud of the effort.”

The Redettes built off their momentum to start the second half. Just 30 seconds into the third quarter, the Redettes scored a quick four points off two quick steals. Spreading the ball around and taking lots of shots from the perimeter, the Redettes eventually amassed a 32-20 lead midway into the quarter.

LaFave answered with a three-point play, but the Redettes built their lead right back up with six consecutive points going into the fourth.

The Redettes continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter, at one point expanding their lead to 20 points. They hit three triples, two from Viitala who broke out in a big way, finishing with 18 points. She also compiled six rebounds and four steals. Lydia Kurin had 10 points and seven rebounds while Storm scored nine points with five steals and seven assists.

“We’re a team where every player needs to be there,” said Smith. “Morgan was our leading rebounder and it changes the dynamic a bit with her out. Liana had some nice steals and made a big three in the first half and Kirsten had a couple of rim runs in the second half. We put Liz Kurin on LaFave. She had two threes but when she drove inside, she made her earn it. We knew we had to find her while holding everyone else down.”

LaFave finished with a game-high 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Marquette won the JV game 47-17.