By RON DEUTER
KINGSFORD - Kingsford is playing for a girls district basketball title.
Ron Deuter/The Daily News Photo
Kingsford’s Annika Erickson (20) and Carlee Benzie (11) harass Escanaba’s Codi Jenshak in the backcourt during Monday’s district semifinal.
Posting a 46-34 win over Escanaba Monday, the Flivvers will host Menominee Wednesday night in the Class B District 64 final at a 6 p.m.
The Flivvers (17-4) won both regular-season meetings against the Maroons, 39-37 on Jan. 17, and 56-45 on Feb. 11.
"We have to play well," Flivvers head coach Mike Cross said. "Menominee, the last time we played them, they were able to stay with us. They struggled in that first quarter but after that, they hung in there pretty well and gave us fits down the stretch. So we have to play well on Wednesday."
Menominee, with its 47-46 win over Escanaba Monday, improved to 10-10 for the season.
"They're a very quick team," Maroons head coach Lucas Chouinard said. "We have to match their quickness. we have to match their intensity.
"We expect them to press us full-court, man-to-man, and we have to be able to manage that. It's going to be a very tough matchup for us, but I really like our chances. We were very competitive with them the two times we played them. I think we match up pretty well, and it should be a good district final."
Carlee Benzie posted game highs of 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting three of Kingsford's eight triples, but it was her defensive pressure that proved most frustrating for Escanaba in the Flivvers' semifinal victory here Monday evening.
"I kind of thought we broke the press pretty well," Escanaba coach Kelly O'Connell said. "But there were times, because Carlee is so quick, she comes up from behind and swipes it. I think if we would have recognized that, our turnovers would have been cut in half."
The Flivvers forced Escanaba into 20 turnovers with their press.
"We hit the middle, we broke it, but Carlee is all over the floor," O'Connell said. "She is a tremendous athlete, quick, and Kingsford is a very quick team overall."
Kingsford limited the Eskymos to 14 points in the first half. Benzie sunk two of her threes in the third quarter to help the Flivvers expand their lead. Annika Erickson added eight points, hitting twice from deep. Maria Wiltzius and Amber Larson both pumped in six points, Wiltzius draining another Flivver trey.
"With the zone they were in, we passed really well," Flivvers coach Mike Cross said. "That was a big key to it. We had some kids step and make some big shots. Our two sophomores hit some shots. That helped us out quite a bit."
The Flivver lead was safely in double digits until very late when an Esky burst briefly threatened to cut it under 10.
"We missed a lot of easy shots in the first half," O'Connell said. "We could have come in tighter. But it was a great effort. The girls were right there. If we could have made some of those easy shots early on, we could have kept that gap closer."
Codi Jenshak scored 11 points and was the only Eskymo in double figures.
"Defensively, our goal in pressuring them, if we're not getting steals, is to make them work for everything and hopefully tire them out," Cross said. "It just forces them to be in that hurry mode.
"I thought we were tough. I can't say enough about Andrea Roell, held (Michelle) LaFave to seven points. That girl just works so hard. She's a pit bull out there."
While it didn't last three overtimes, Gladstone and Menominee definitely went the distance in Monday's other semifinal.
Up-for-grabs until the end, the Maroons, backed by Amanda Pedersen's game highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds, were able to hold off the Braves.
"It was very tough," Chouinard said. "We definitely could have put away down the stretch. But we made plays at the end when we needed to. We made key rebounds, key stops, which was very important, and we didn't foul down the stretch which was huge.
"So it was a very good team win for us."
Menominee earned its first victory in three tries over the Braves (10-11), this one proving as physical as it was thrilling.
The Maroons took the lead for good on a pair of Taylor Roman free throws with just under a minute left.
Having gone three overtimes in a regular-season meeting earlier this month, Monday's contest seemed destined for a similar fate. The teams exchanged the lead a dozen times in the contest and were tied three times in the final quarter before Roman's free throws.
Gladstone had three separate chances to tie or take a lead in the final minute, thanks in part to the Maroons only being able to add one more freebie following Roman's pair.
Coming up empty on the first two possessions, the Braves had one final opportunity down three with 8.8 seconds left. In-bounding on their own baseline with no timeouts, Jess Beaudry got the ball and opted to drive in for two.
Time ran out before the Braves could foul again.
Christian finished with 11 points for the Maroons. Roman scored 10. Karli Barley added the lone late free throw, that coming with 17.9 seconds left.
The winner of Wednesday's district final advances to regional play at Cadillac beginning March 5, against either Kalkaska, Roscommon, Cheyboygan or Ogemaw Heights.
Escanaba 8 6 5 15 - 34
Kingsford 15 10 9 12 - 46
ESCANABA: Jenshak 11, LaFave 7, Beauchamp 6, Collins 4, Cook 2, Gafner 2, Berquist 2. FT: 3-7. F: 12.
KINGSFORD: Benzie 12, Erickson 8, Larson 6, Wiltzius 6, Qualley 5, Fleming 5, Roell 4. FT: 8-12. F: 11.
FG shooting - E: 15-43; K: 15-50; 3-pt FGs - E: Jenshak; K: Benzie (3), Erickson (2), Wiltzius, Qualley. Rebounding - E: 30 (LaFave 9); K: 27 (Benzie 9).
Menominee 10 13 13 11 - 47
Gladstone14 8 13 11 - 46
MENOMINEE: Pedersen 17, Christian 11, Roman 10, Barley 5, Stewart 4. FT: 5-18. F: 19.
GLADSTONE: Sharon 13, Beaudry 10, St. Cry 7, Strasser 6, Jensen 4, Hongisto 4, Austin 2. FT: 13-27. F: 19. FO: Strasser.
FG shooting - M: 21-49; G: 15-52. 3-pt FGs - M: Roman, Christian; G: St. Cyr. Rebounding - M: 31 (Pedersen 11); G: 29 (Beaudry 8).