Prep girls basketball: Freshman, senior lead Negaunee to win over Gwinn in Class C district

NEGAUNEE – They’re an unlikely dynamic duo for the Negaunee High School girls basketball team – freshman Aleda Johnson and senior Rosalie Anderson.

But having a ninth grader and a 12th grader in this role makes perfect sense – Johnson is the future of Miners basketball while Anderson is the present.

The pair had key performances in Negaunee’s 47-40 victory over Gwinn to open the MHSAA Class C district tournament in Ishpeming on Wednesday night.

The Miners move onto the district championship game at 7 p.m. Friday back at Ishpeming against the host Hematites, who defeated Westwood 46-37 in Wednesday’s second game.

Anderson scored 12 points and pulled down four rebounds. And the numbers don’t do her justice.

“Rosalie didn’t want this to be her last game,” NHS coach Brandon Sager said of the one-and-done nature of the postseason. “She was all over the floor. She did a lot of important things that don’t show up in the statistics.”

Such as drawing a charging foul on Modeltowners junior point guard Ellie Olsen in the final minute of the third quarter. Already in foul trouble in the first half, the offensive foul was Olsen’s fourth and forced Gwinn coach Ben Olsen to give his junior point guard another extended stay on the bench.

“Our defense just left a wide-open gap for Olsen, but then Rosalie moved into her path and drew that foul,” Sager said.

Johnson, on the other hand, had a statistic that easily showed the value to her team – a 12-for-12 performance at the free-throw line, four of those coming in the third quarter and six in the fourth.

“That’s pretty incredible – she’s 23 of 24 the last two games,” Sager said, alluding to Johnson’s 11-of-12 night at the line to end the regular season. “You’d never guess that she’s a freshman with numbers like that.”

Last Thursday’s performance came in a 53-49 home victory over Ishpeming that gave Negaunee a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference title.

“Free throws and defense have been winning games for us all year, since we’re not the most talented team offensively,” Sager said.

One pair of Wednesday’s statistics prove his point – the Miners made just 11 of 48 from the field (23 percent), but were 24 of 31 at the line (77 percent).

Johnson, who finished with a game-high 16 points and shared team rebounding honors with five, doesn’t seemed awed or surprised by her free-throw shooting in clutch situations.

“It’s just muscle memory,” she said. “I tell myself not to think about it. Obviously, there’s pressure when the game’s close. But you’ve just got to overcome it.”

Though the Miners managed to tie the score twice in the early going, Gwinn led throughout the first half, upping its lead to 18-9 three minutes before halftime when senior Katie Aho banked in a 14-foot jumper.

The Modeltowners countered a 5-0 spurt by Negaunee when junior Jordyn Hutchens banged home a 3-pointer from the right side and was fouled with 1:23 left to make it 21-14. Though she missed the subsequent free throw, it seemed to return the momentum to Gwinn.

“I thought when it was 21-14 we had to expand the lead,” Ben Olsen said. “If we could’ve scored two more (baskets) down the stretch, we’d have been up 25-14 and made it a totally different game.

“Instead, they hit the baskets at the end and went from seven points down to three at halftime.”

The “they” hitting the baskets was actually just Johnson. The Miners freshman made her only two free throw tries of the first half with 49 seconds left, then stole an inbounds pass, missed a shot with time running down, snagged the offensive rebound and knocked down the putback from 10 feet out a second before the halftime buzzer went off.

“In the second half, (Negaunee) picked up their defensive intensity and that bothered us, especially with Ellie out of the game,” Ben Olsen said. “She’s been our main ball handler all year and she usually plays 32 minutes.”

Sager, who says the three most important minutes of the game are the ones at the start of the second half, watched his team turn a 21-18 halftime deficit into a 23-23 tie in the first 2:55 of the third quarter.

Though sophomore and recent JV callup Nicole Usher hit a triple to again give Gwinn the lead, it was the last time the Modeltowners would be on top the rest of the game.

The game was tied twice in the next few minutes before Johnson hit her third and fourth free throws of the period to make it 30-28 entering the fourth quarter.

An Anderson jumper and putback from an offensive rebound helped give the Miners their biggest lead, 36-28, with 5:38 left in the fourth. Gwinn never got closer than four points after that.

Though junior Hailee Richards didn’t score, she shared Negaunee rebounding honors with five. Sophomore Tori Lauren led Gwinn with 11 points, while Hutchens had nine and Olsen eight points and a game-high seven rebounds.