Madysen Kontio and the ‘D’: Senior’s late free throw, defense lift Negaunee girls basketball team to 1-point home win over Marquette

Negaunee’s Hailey Fezatt, left, makes an offensive rebound and looks for an outlet pass as Marquette’s Bridget Pliska, right, defends Tuesday night at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

“It was pretty special for a senior to step up and hit a game-winning free throw on Senior Night.” — Brandon Sager, Negaunee head coach, on Madysen Kontio breaking a late tie

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NEGAUNEE — Senior Madysen Kontio sank a free throw with 11 seconds remaining and a strong Negaunee defensive stand in the closing moments got the Miners a 54-53 victory over Marquette for a sweep of their season series against the Upper Peninsula’s No. 2-ranked Class ABC girls basketball team.

It marked the second straight last-second victory for Negaunee (14-5), following up a 43-41 win at Westwood on Friday night.

Head coach Brandon Sager said the sweep of Marquette was an historic moment for the Negaunee girls program.

“I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” he said. “This group of seniors has put a lot of time and effort into this the past few years, and we’ve come close to doing this a few times.

“It’s great for our program to achieve this with the playoffs coming up, and it was pretty special for a senior to step up and hit a game-winning free throw on Senior Night.”

With less than five minutes remaining, the Miners held a 52-45 lead and had everything going their way to lock up a win in their final home game of the regular season.

Then the Redettes fought back and made it just a two-point game after a layup from Amber Huebner with just under a minute remaining.

Twenty seconds later, Marquette’s Bridget Pliska made a move into the paint and put in a layup to tie the score, 53-53.

Kontio brought an aggressive approach into the paint herself moments later at the other end, drawing a foul and making one of two free throws to give Negaunee a tenuous one-point lead.

The Redettes had 11 seconds to take the last shot and go for the win in a game they trailed most of the way.

After each team took a timeout and Marquette inbounded the ball, the MSHS offense tried to spread out and find Huebner at the top of the arc, but by the time the ball was thrown her way the clock had run out as the Miners stormed the court and celebrated their upset.

“It’s scary when they have a player like Huebner in that situation,” Sager said. “We were trying to stay in front of her and we swapped post players in. I told our girls to stay straight, not to let them into the lane and don’t reach or foul. They did a great job following that, and we were fortunate to have the clock run out.”

The Miners had a hot start, with a long 2-pointer by Ally Jacobson giving Negaunee a 10-2 lead halfway through the first quarter.

Marquette’s only lead came with 2:45 left in the first half when Claudia Hale grabbed an offensive rebound and turned it into a layup, putting the Redettes on top 20-19.

The lead didn’t last long, as Negaunee’s Clara Johnson responded with a triple to put the Miners ahead again at halftime.

Marquette head coach Ben Smith said his team didn’t put together enough plays to win.

“We needed to compete better on the defensive end,” he said. “We let them get things too easily for too long and when we started competing we missed some plays.

“When you play a good team this time of the year, you’re not going to be able to compete if you give up too many easy ones. Whether it’s not fighting or communicating enough through screens, we need to do a better job.

“We’re taking away from this that it’s the last week of the regular season, and if this happens next week there’s no next time. Hopefully we can regroup and be ready to go.”

Three players shared game scoring honors with 14 points — Negaunee’s Abby Nelson and Marquette’s Huebner and Kelsey Grange. Johnson added 12 points for the Miners, while Avery Ledy had 11 for the Redettes.

Marquette closes the regular season by hosting Menominee on Thursday before traveling to Gaylord for a Monday game to open the Class A district tournament.

Negaunee goes to Ishpeming on Thursday before hosting their Class C district, starting with a game against Gwinn next Wednesday night.

Ray Bressette can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is rbressette@miningjournal.net.