NEGAUNEE - With the relentless defense that Negaunee plays, it doesn't seem fair when the Miners start hitting tough shots, too.
The MHSAA Class C girls basketball district tournament hosts did just that right out of the gates and held off Westwood, 69-53, on Wednesday night to advance to the district championship game on Friday.
The Miners will face Ishpeming, which dropped Gwinn 68-49 in Wednesday's other game. It will be a matchup of the top two teams from the Mid-Peninsula Conference, with Negaunee now 16-5 and Ishpeming at 15-6.
Negaunee’s Kayla Hakala drives past Westwood’s Gabrielle Hebert during the first quarter of an?MHSAA Class C district semifinal game Wednesday at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in?Negaunee. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
On Wednesday, Negaunee was the model of efficiency early, needing to make just three baskets - by seniors Haley Blake and Kayla Hakala and sophomore Adena Anderson - to build a 10-1 lead.
That's because each was a 3-pointer, and the first one, a shot from the left side by Blake, turned into a 4-point play when she was fouled on her shot and made the subsequent free throw.
"I told our shooters to be locked and loaded and ready to fire," Miners coach Brandon Sager said about the 3-point opportunities. "I tell them a wide-open shot is never bad, just that sometimes you don't want to take them too soon in a possession."
"They were on fire tonight," Patriots coach Kurt Corcoran said. "They came out ready and we did exactly what we had been working on trying not to do - having to dig out of an early hole."
While Negaunee never relinquished its lead, Westwood (7-13) didn't let the deficit reach double digits until the final second of the first half, getting as close as 13-9 early in the second quarter on an acrobatic layup by junior Elizabeth Dauphinais-VanBuren that sent her flying through the air.
With the halftime score 26-15, a third-quarter dry spell doomed the Patriots. They went more than six minutes without scoring as Negaunee reeled off a 16-0 run to up its lead to 45-20.
In that time, Westwood missed four free throws, was called for an offensive charging foul, had the ball stolen twice, had a three-shot possession that netted nothing, and put up two air balls.
"Hustle and hard work can get you a lot of places, but in the end, you have to be able to make shots," Corcoran said. "I hope the girls want to work on their shooting, because to be successful, you've got to make some of your 3s and you've got to make all your free throws."
That's something the Negaunee girls have learned.
"It's good that we have everyone on the floor who can shoot," said Hakala, who finished with 11 points, including two 3s. "We always have one person who is making them.
"What we worked on for three days before this game was breaking the (defensive) press, and we wanted to make sure we were playing 'help' defense."
She explained that meant if one of the speedy Patriots players tried to penetrate to the basket, her defender would have a teammate move in to help stop her.
"They're all so fast, we were looking to take some charges," Hakala said.
VanBuren and senior teammate Sarah Massie led all scorers with 13 points as VanBuren also made three steals. Two more Patriot seniors, Taryn Moyle and Kara Harrington, each grabbed a team-high four rebounds.
For Negaunee, junior Rosalie Anderson scored 12 points, most coming from a 10-of-13 performance at the free-throw line, while Blake had 10 points and a game-high six rebounds.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.