Prep girls basketball: Third quarter bites Negaunee again in loss to Escanaba

ESCANABA – Escanaba’s defense gave Negaunee fits all first half, but the Eskymos only had a 20-18 halftime lead to show for it.

“At halftime … I said is there such a thing as too quick, because if you create a turnover and then turnover the turnover, that doesn’t help us,” said Eskymos head coach Dena Fedell.

“Take care of the ball, make the passes and let’s run our offense, create a hole and create some shooting opportunities.”

Escanaba kept the pressure up, took care of the ball and in the second half, its offense clicked as the Eskymos rolled to a 54-39 nonconference win over Negaunee.

The Miners struggled to get into their offense against the Eskymos’ aggressive two-three zone defense. Escanaba extended its pressure into the backcourt, forcing 25 Negaunee turnovers.

“We decided (to use) that three-quarter court press because we do have that quickness,” Fedell said. “You always have to make adjustments, a tweak here, a tweak there.”

In the Eskymos’ last game, a 60-48 loss to Sault Ste. Marie, it was a 20-2 third quarter run by the Blue Devils that made the difference.

This time around, it was the Eskymos taking control in the third quarter, jumping out of the gates with a 11-3 run to take a 31-21 lead.

Negaunee head coach Brandon Sager said the third quarter has been his team’s nemesis this season.

“It’s kind of been characteristic this season for us. Three games now, we’ve kind of fallen apart in the third quarter,” he said. “That’s kind of where we dug our hole.”

Negaunee (1-2) struggled at times to penetrate the zone and find open shooters. The young Miners were without last season’s leading scorer, senior Rosalie Anderson, due to an ankle injury.

“Our age showed, we buckled under the pressure,” Sager said. “We tried different combinations and everybody was kind of in panic mode tonight.

“We’ve worked on it, so it isn’t that we haven’t reviewed or gone through this stuff. I think it comes down to age tonight.”

The Miners kept within striking distance for most of the second half, trailing 35-26 heading into the fourth quarter.

Negaunee scored first in the fourth on a bucket by Aubri Romback, but the Eskymos responded with two straight buckets by Tara Strahl, both from assists by Michelle LaFave.

LaFave netted 14 points and also contributed three assists in the fourth quarter.

“They were heavy on her and if they’re wearing heavy on her, then someone else is going to be open,” Fedell said. “I tried her up on top just to see if they would come to her on top and they did.”

Strahl’s buckets were part of a 10-2 run that helped the Eskymos build a double-digit fourth quarter lead. The Miners cut the lead to single-digits (39-30) with 5:34 left, but that was a close as they would get.

Escanaba (1-2) sank their free throws down the stretch, shooting 18-for-23 from the line and helping Fedell earn her first win as a varsity coach.

Escanaba senior guard Ashley Cook netted a game and career-high 15 points.

The Negaunee junior varsity beat Escanaba, 34-27.