ESCANABA - Escanaba girls basketball coach Dena Fedell likes to borrow from Baylor University head coach Kim Mulkey's post philosophy.
"The Baylor coach always said If my power forward or center doesn't see the ball 70 times a game, than we don't have a game," she said. "So keep getting into her because she knows how to draw the fouls."
Escanaba junior center Michelle LaFave responded with a Brittney-Griner like game, pouring in 30 points and snagging 16 rebounds to lead the Eskymos past Ishpeming 56-50 on Thursday night.
Ishpeming’s Jessica Spencer (34) drives into the paint during Thursday night’s game against Escanaba in Escanaba. Spencer led the Hematites with 12 points. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Jon Young)
"Michelle LaFave is a heck of a basketball player - 30 points and dominated inside, outside and made all her free throws," Ishpeming head coach Tom Graves said. "She's a presence defensively inside and we just didn't have an answer for her."
LaFave recorded three blocks, but also picked up three fouls in the first half. She sat briefly in the second quarter, but returned in the third and fourth quarters to score 18 points.
"I had to stay aggressive and play, but I have to focus on not bending my arms, keeping myself straight up," LaFave said. "I had to focus on not fouling. You still have to play aggressive though. You can't just let them take it to the hoop."
Escanaba 56, Ishpeming 50
Escanaba 11 14 12 19 - 56
Ishpeming 9 13 13 15 - 50
Escanaba - Collins 14, Gafner 2, Strahl 1, Connor 9, LaFave 30; FT: 19-22, F: 20: Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: LaFave 1.
Ishpeming - Aho 1, Penhale 3, Simula 9, Skytta 3, Engler 10, Spencer 12, Thompson 7, Croley 5; FT: 12-15; F: 21; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: None.
LaFave did stay aggressive, even with four fouls. Eskymo guard Lynsey Collins found LaFave on a backdoor cut with 2:10 left to tie the game at 47-47. On the next possession, LaFave blocked Kaylie Engler's shot and found a streaking Collins, who was fouled. Collins converted her lay-up attempt to give the Eskymos a 49-47 lead.
After Collins' basket, the Eskymos never trailed again. The senior, chipped in eight points in the fourth after being held to six points in the first three quarters.
"The seniors know this is the second to last game they have to play," Fedell said. "I said how bad do you want to fight for it, how bad do you want to win? It ultimately comes down to that."
The Hepatitides gave Escanaba fits in the first half as their full court press and man-to-man defense forced 20 turnovers. Ishpeming wasn't able take advantage, however, as they trailed 25-22 at the half.
"We had a lot of opportunities, but we just didn't finish our lay-ups," Graves said. "This was something that got us earlier in the season against Negaunee when we missed 25 against them in a two-point loss."
"Part of that is the presence. They're a big physical team inside and I think that was part of it, but we still have to learn and understand that tournament time is right around the corner and we've got to be able to finish those shots."