EBEN - The Ishpeming girls basketball team provided the Superior Central Cougars plenty of excitement in the season-opening contest for both schools Wednesday with the Cougars hanging on for a 56-53 triumph in Eben.
Superior Central led 29-13 early in the second quarter before the Hematites began their comeback.
"I'm thankful for this one," said Cougars' coach Greg Trowbridge. "Give the Ishpeming girls credit. They have a good ball club. I think this helped us more than if we had a 16-point lead the whole game. Our girls had to dig deep for this one."
Cougars' senior center Brianna Emard scored her lone basket, a five-foot jump shot from the baseline, on a pass from senior guard Brooke Pasanen for a 55-53 lead with 10 seconds left to play.
Pasanen then finished the scoring with a free throw 3.5 seconds later.
"It was good to be a part of this," said Ishpeming coach Tom Graves. "This was a well played game for the first game of the year. They (Cougars) are so solid. This was a good growing experience for us. If we continue to improve, we'll be okay."
Superior Central 56, Ishpeming 53
Ishpeming 13 9 17 14 - 53
Superior Central 21 11 2 22 - 56
Ishpeming - Simula 8, Skytta 3, Engler 15, Spencer 16, Croley 11. FT: 8-13; F: 14; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goal: Skytta.
Superior Central - Tyner 18, Pasanen 16, Swajanen 1, Freberg 19, Emard 2. FT: 9-14; F: 11; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Tyner, Pasanen.
Ishpeming gained a 46-40 lead with 5:27 left in the game when senior guard Morgan Skytta sank a jumper from top of the key.
Superior Central responded with eight unanswered points, taking a 48-46 on an 18-foot jumper by senior guard Teslyn Tyner.
The teams then traded baskets until senior forward Vanessa Freberg snapped a 50-50 deadlock with a set shot from the lane and a free throw to put the Cougars up by three points (53-50) with 1:49 remaining.
Ten seconds later, Tammy Simula sank a free throw to trim Ishpeming's deficit to 53-51.
The junior guard then tied the score at 53 on a fast break layup with 40 seconds left, setting the stage for a nailbiting finish.
Superior Central, which committed just four turnovers in the first half, took a 32-22 lead into the halftime locker room. The Cougars, however, had 10 miscues in the third quarter and were trailing 39-34 heading into the final eight minutes.
Freberg, an All-Upper Peninsula Dream Team selection a year ago, was whistled for her third foul just 28 seconds into the third quarter and picked up her fourth with 58.3 seconds left in the period.
"Vanessa can do just about anything," said Trowbridge. "She usually doesn't get into foul trouble. The foul trouble limited what she could do offensively and defensively. It also forced us into a zone (defense) more than we wanted. We ran a 2-2-1 zone press in the third quarter and we weren't doing a good job shifting on one side, which was partly my fault. We hadn't worked on that enough."
Ishpeming continued to take advantage of the situation, taking its largest lead (41-34) on a layup by senior center Gabby Croley. The Hematites, however, were unable to keep the upper hand.
"I thought we had enough opportunities," said Graves. "I knew they were going to make runs on us. There was going to be no quitting either way. This was our version of Michigan State-Kentucky, with two very good basketball programs battling it out."
Freberg led the Cougars with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Tyner, who drew the hot hand early in the contest, finished with 18 points and Pasanen had 16 points and three assists.
The Cougars held a 31-27 rebounding advantage, hit 21-of-54 field goals and finished with 16 turnovers. Ishpeming converted 22-of-50 shots and had 14 miscues.
Junior forward Jessica Spencer, an All-U.P. second-team pick last season, paced the Hematites with 16 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Kaylie Engler added 15 points and Croley had 11 points and 10 boards.
Ishpeming, which won JV game 51-17, visits Gladstone Dec. 12. The Cougars travel to Big Bay de Noc on Friday.