NEGAUNEE - An entire game's domination almost came unraveled in a short minute for the Negaunee girls basketball team on Friday night.
But the Miners kept their composure and held off Westwood for a 48-45 victory to keep control of the Mid-Peninsula Conference race.
Negaunee improved to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the M-PC, a game ahead of Ishpeming, which also won Friday and is 5-1 in league. Westwood, meanwhile, slipped to 2-7 and 1-3.
"I'm exhausted, but probably not as much as our girls are," NHS coach Brandon Sager said after the game. "We got what we expected out of Westwood - a real battle.
"This is our third close game, and we've won them all, so we're getting good experience at that."
The Miners jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the game's first five minutes, building it up to 19-5 at one point in the second quarter before settling for a 28-16 halftime advantage.
The lead stayed at least at eight points until the last few minutes, including 44-31 after Negaunee junior Rosalie Anderson made two free throws with exactly two minutes left in the game.
Then things got interesting.
Westwood sophomore Gabrielle Hebert made a pair of baskets 13 seconds apart - a Negaunee traveling call in its backcourt making for the quick turnaround - to cut the deficit to 44-35 with 1:28 to play. It opened an 11-1 run by the Patriots that barely took a minute.
Miners senior Jordyn LaFreniere made 1 of 2 free throws, but it started a flurry of activity mostly under Negaunee's basket.
A second after that free throw, Negaunee fouled Westwood trying to inbound the ball, marching everyone to the other end of the floor.
In the next 40 seconds, the Patriots made 3 of 4 free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound on the one that was missed. They also made two steals in Negaunee's backcourt, each leading to an easy layup and suddenly Westwood trailed 45-42 with 40 seconds left.
"Our girls played so hard for 32 minutes," Westwood first-year coach Kurt Corcoran said. "It takes us awhile, but we get on these big rushes at the end of the game. We've just got to stop digging ourselves into a hole early in the game."
While he didn't feel the officials were slanted toward either team, Corcoran is hoping for a different style of calling games as his team earns respect for its defense.
"It just handcuffs us to have every touch foul called," he said. "I'm hoping once referees start understanding what we're trying to do, a different kind of game can be called."
When the lead was whittled to one possession, the Negaunee girls said they regrouped and told each other they could hold it together.
"We started talking to each other and said, 'C'mon, let's do it,'" Miners senior Taylor Wilber said.
NHS kept secure hold of the ball, forcing several fouls by Westwood in the waning seconds. With Anderson making 1 of 2 and senior Kayla Hakala good on 2 of 2, Negaunee led 48-42.
"We basically pride ourselves on our defense," Wilbur said.
The team effort showed in Negaunee's rebounding, as Anderson finished with a team-high eight, senior Ashley Veale had seven, and Wilber and Hakala each had six.
Anderson, who made 8 of 10 free throws, and Hakala shared team scoring honors with 12, while Massie led all scorers with 13. Elizabeth Dauphinais-VanBuren led Westwood rebounders with six while senior Alexis Forchini had five.
The Miners won the JV game, 31-29.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org