About time: Panthers top Jets to earn first district since 2005

Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood) Ewen-Trout Creek coach Jacky Besonen brings the Division 4 District 97 championship trophy to her fired up team Friday night at the House of Noise in Bessemer.

BESSEMER — Ewen-Trout Creek showed the different ways it can win during this week’s Division 4 District 97 tournament.

In Wednesday’s semifinal win over Ontonagon, they went inside to Abbie LeGault and she dominated with 19 points and 17 rebounds. In Friday night’s final, Jeffers took that away for the most part and the Panthers’ guards were the top three scorers.

It all added up to E-TC’s first district championship since 2005 as the Panthers (17-4) beat Jeffers (11-11), 47-37, Friday night.

“It’s something you dream about as a little kid, but now that we’ve actually done it, it’s amazing, it’s awesome,” E-TC sophomore Elise Besonen said.

They will play Stephenson (11-9) Monday night in the regional semifinal at Kingsford.

“I’m just so happy for these girls,” E-TC coach Jacky Besonen said. “We’ve had a long dry spell since 2005 of not winning districts. These girls have been playing together since they were little and getting better and getting better. I told them tonight all this hard work is going to pay off. They came out and played a good Jeffers team and were able to get the district.”

Elise Besonen led E-TC with 16 points, Kate Borseth had 13 and Paige Berglund nine. They combined for eight threes and they all seemed to come at big moments.

“They were really looking to double our post — I can see why, Abbie scored 19 the last game — we had a little trouble getting offense through her, but we found open shots,” coach Besonen said. “And luckily we were able to hit some of those. Throughout the game, people stepped up and hit those when we really needed them to try to keep a little cushion and pull away.”

It really was the case throughout the game.

When the Jets scored the first five points of the game, Besonen and Borseth hit back-to-back threes to put the Panthers in front 6-5.

Jeffers took an 18-15 lead in a low-scoring second quarter. Besonen hit consecutive threes, though, including one at the buzzer, to give the Panthers a 21-18 going into the half.

“That was a big confidence booster for us to be able to go into halftime up three,” Coach Besonen said.

The Jets’ Marissa Nordstrom entered the second half with four fouls. Yet they took the lead again early in the third, 22-21. Except Borseth and Berglund stuck a pair of threes to give E-TC a 27-22 lead.

“I finally was making my shots,” Borseth said.

Borseth kept the rally going. She went on the floor to fight for a loose ball, won it, passed off the floor and Abbie LeGault ended up with a wide open layup. Borseth followed that with a three to put the Panthers up by 10, 32-22. It was 32-23 going into the fourth after an 11-1 E-TC run.

“That was a big scrap,” coach Besonen said.

Borseth started the fourth with two long 2s with a Jeffers bucket in between to make the lead 11, 36-25.

It’s hard to believe watching Borseth play that she is an eighth grader. The moment didn’t affect her Friday night, as she had 10 big points in the second half.

“I’m not surprised,” coach Besonen said. “I watched her, I knew she was going to be this, this year. I was waiting for her to get to eighth grade so she could be on varsity.”

The Jets had one last run in them, trying to keep the season going with it being coach Joe Romano’s final year. They got it down to five, 36-31.

LeGault scored inside and converted a three-point play. Jeffers Dayna Johnson hit a jumper to make it six, but the Panthers found LeGault again for a big layup. And while Jeffers made two free throws to cut it to six one more time, 41-35, with 1:08 left, E-TC made free throws down the stretch preventing the comeback from going any further. Besonen went 4 for 4 in the final minute and Berglund made two also.

“In the second half, we tried to preach to have patience on offense and take care of the ball and when we could get it in, we got it in,” Besonen said. “Abbie did a good job of being strong and finding the open person when they doubled her. A couple times at the end, she was able to get to the hoop and they were big baskets that we needed at the time.”

For the most part, Jeffers contained LeGault as planned. E-TC is just so balanced with good inside and outside play that it’s hard to control both. That’s been huge for them all season.

“We thought we had success inside and stopping LeGault, she’s a great basketball player,” Romano said. “What do you do when you got Besonen? It’s pick your poison and we picked our poison.

“I think it would have ended up either way. They’re just a beautiful team, well-coached.”

Johnson led Jeffers with 15 points. The Jets finished at 11-11, but went 5-3 in their last eight and they played some good teams well, including E-TC. The Panthers had to go small at times to stay in front of their quick guards that like to drive to the basket and they outrebounded E-TC 32-22 despite being the smaller team.

“The kids played well,” Romano said. “We had a bad spurt in that third quarter. We missed some buckets inside and we had some in and outs. I’m proud of my kids. The seniors, they went out holding their heads up high.

“This was my last game, so a little emotional. It is hard to say goodbye to these kids, but I love them. They gave me their all. They’re in their soaking wet and crying. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Fantastic kids.”

Stephenson flew under the radar all season and was never ranked in the U.P. poll. Besonen will be working to learn about them this weekend in hopes of doing more than winning the district.

“That was one of our goals, the next is winning regionals,” she said. “We can’t just be satisfied with districts. We’ve got to keep going and focus on what we can do on Monday.”

Ewen-Trout Creek 12 9 11 15 – 47

Jeffers 12 6 5 14 – 37

E-TC: Besonen 16, Borseth 13, Berglund 9, LeGault 7, Moilanen 2; FTs: 9-14; Fouls: 10; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Besonen 4, Borseth 3, Berglund 1.

JHS: Johnson 15, Heinonen 9, Nordstrom 7, Asiala 4, Hillstrom 1, Hill 1; FTs: 13-20; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Johnson 1, Asiala 1.