E lation on one side and devastation on the other. Thus is the dichotomy of high school sports.
The postseason always brings both emotions, but they don’t often affect the same team at the same time.
But on Tuesday they did.
As Escanaba grappled with the anguish of a 52-41 quarterfinal loss to Bridgeport, the team also celebrated one player’s milestone and the entire school’s history-making season.
As the clock wound down, coach Tracy Hudson subbed out senior Erik Victorson. When the guard began hugging his teammates, tears rolled down his cheeks. But then, suddenly, Hudson put him back in the game.
Hudson’s assistant coaches informed him that Victorson was two points away from the 1,000-point mark. So he put the guard back in and instructed him to shoot.
Victorson was able to make a 3-pointer with about a minute left on the clock. As he did, the Esky bench rose up and cheered, throwing the 3-point symbol in the air.
“For him to put me back in, it means a lot,” Victorson said. “It just shows how much they care, how much they love their kids and how much they want us to succeed and reach our goals.”
Victorson started his high school career at Oregon High School in Wisconsin and played his senior year at Escanaba due to COVID restrictions in his home state.
For him, the bitterness of losing to Bridgeport was further balanced by the sweetness of his team and the acceptance he received all season.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Coming up here was a big risk. But they welcomed me with open arms. They welcomed me into their system, and there were no hard feelings, no animosity toward me. It was just straight-up love from the start. To come in here for my senior year and make the run that we did, playing the way we did, I couldn’t ask for anything different.”
This season was a monumental one for Escanaba.
The boys team reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1960, and the girls achieved the same accomplishment for the first time ever.
As the boys played Bridgeport, players from the girls squad stood in the stands, cheering them on.
“The great part about it was that it happened at the same time,” Hudson said. “It’s just two teams that really had a passion for basketball, and that stayed together and made a great run. Someday it’s gonna be, ‘Hey, remember when both the boys and girls went to the quarterfinals at the same time?’ ” That is going to be special.”
In the moment it can be hard to have that foresight. The specialness of it all will really sink in during the coming days, weeks, months and then years. But for now, Esky gets to be sad. Because the Eskymos weren’t just happy to be here. They wanted to win.
“We showed we belonged here,” Hudson said. “I think that if you watched the game we looked really good at times, and other times we looked not so good. It’s a tough one.”
Escanaba started the game looking good. Really, really good, in fact.
Victorson opened play with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Colin Hudson worked the high-post, finishing jumpers just inside the free-throw line.
As Bridgeport put on a full-court press, Escanaba was able to use the size of Colin and Carter Hudson to see over the defense, and the ballhandling of Victorson and Brandon Frazer to break it with relative ease.
At the end of the first quarter, Escanaba led 18-16, and it looked as though spectators who made the trip from the UP might be in for a shootout.
The Hudson brothers and Victorson each recorded six points in the quarter.
In the second period, the game became more of a defensive matchup. Both squads settled into their defenses, and Bridgeport was able to match Esky in terms of length and strength — a rarity for the Eskymos.
“It’s a tough matchup because they are all quick, and for the first time this year, they had a couple of guys down low who could match Carter’s physicality,” Victorson said. “So it’s tough when you play a team like that. And you know, I thought we could have won, but we didn’t get some things to go our way. Sometimes that is just how the dice rolls.”
After a first half in which the dice often rolled Escanaba’s way, the second half went to Bridgeport.
Suddenly, the shots Escanaba was hitting before the break bounced around the rim. As the team struggled to get good looks to fall, it started settling for jumpers without working the ball inside, and eventually, Bridgeport gained momentum.
“I would have liked to see us going downhill to the basket,” Coach Hudson said. “I would have liked to see us catching the ball and being a bit more patient, and getting it inside out. But I think the pressure rattled our decision making. And we still got good looks, but we couldn’t make them.”
Escanaba shot just 34% on the game and 25% from the 3-point line.
Bridgeport took a 32-29 lead as the third quarter wound down, before Frazer stepped in and hit a 3-pointer to tie things up. The Escanaba student section went crazy.
Despite only scoring four points in the period, Esky had some life.
But the excitement of the moment was short-lived as Bridgeport outscored the Eskymos 20-9 in the final frame. There was never any gigantic push or huge swing in momentum, rather a snowball effect was the downfall of Escanaba.
Once Bridgeport got its footing, the team never let up and slowly wore down Escanaba.
Carter Hudson was tasked with guarding big man Omarion Wilkins and was able to limit him to seven points.
But Jaylen Hodges lifted the Bearcats with 19 points.
“We started out in our zone, going back-and-forth from a 1-3-1 to a 2-3 zone, and it really worked for us,” Coach Hudson said. “But once we got behind we had to go to man and we had some mismatches, quickness-wise. And then it turned into a free-throw thing at the end. I think the third quarter was kind of our downfall. We seemed like we lost our poise a little bit in the third, and we didn’t execute, even though we got shots.”
Escanaba went into the break up 28-24, and as Coach Hudson walked his team through his halftime adjustments, he had a simple message for them: “Let’s go out and get to the Final Four.”
Escanaba was two quarters away from doing just that. And right now, that hurts. But somewhere down the line the team will be able to look back, and say, “Hey, remember when?”
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