Hold on for dear life

Negaunee girls fend off Ishpeming rally to win district

Negaunee’s Clara Johnson, right, goes in for a layup as Ishpeming’s Chloe Sjoholm, left, defends Friday night, March 3, 2017, at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

NEGAUNEE — For the first three quarters of Friday night’s Class C girls basketball district championship game, Negaunee was in complete control.

The Miners had a comfortable 44-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but after that, things changed dramatically when Ishpeming put together a furious rally and pulled within four points of the Miners.

But Negaunee hit enough free throws down the stretch to eliminate the Hematites 55-46 and claim the district title.

Three Miners scored in double figures with Abby Nelson leading with 15 points. Mariah Austin paced the Hematites with 13.

“We went up big, but then they cut it to four and I wasn’t sure what the result was going to be,” Negaunee head coach Brandon Sager said. “These girls are resilient, though, and the seniors stepped up tonight for sure and now we’re walking out of here with a victory.

“If you had told me earlier in the year that we would lose (senior point guard) Aleda (Johnson) and still be here with a district title, I’m not sure that I would believe you, but the girls would have.

“For us to pull together and do something like that for her is great and now we want to keep it going.”

After struggling offensively for three full quarters, Ishpeming got things going in the fourth but just ran out of time in its comeback.

“We just couldn’t figure things out, which was weird because we haven’t played like that all season long,” Hematites head coach Ryan Reichel said. “In the fourth quarter, the girls showed what we could do. They worked hard and they never gave up.

“They could have easily packed it in, but they made a game out of it and put on a good show for the crowd.”

The Miners came out furiously in the first quarter. With the help of a 10-0 run highlighted by two treys from Nelson, they led 14-5 at the end of the period.

The Miners continued to pile it on in the second quarter, scoring three straight baskets, including a nice back-door layup by Hailey Fezatt, to go up 20-9.

Ishpeming pulled within nine points late in the half on a steal and layup by Austin and a jumper by Ava Asgaard, but Negaunee still held a 27-17 lead at the break.

The Miners pulled away again in the third quarter, outscoring Ishpeming 17-4 in those eight minutes. Negaunee went on a 12-0 run thanks to triples from Nelson and Clara Johnson to take a 23-point advantage into the fourth.

But that’s when Ishpeming kicked its offense into gear. The Hematites went on a massive 19-0 run to cut Negaunee’s lead to four, 46-42. Ishpeming hit three 3-pointers in the quarter, two by Khora Swanson, and Austin completed a three-point play as well as a steal and layup to bring the Hematite faithful to their feet.

The Miners wouldn’t be denied, though. Madysen Kontio ended Ishpeming’s surge with a three-point play and both Kenzie Karki and Johnson knocked down free throws to close it out.

Negaunee plays Calumet in a Class C regional semifinal on Tuesday night at Marquette Senior High School. A win there would put the Miners in the regional final back in Marquette on Thursday.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.