Soaring Eagles Score Big with Record Range

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 25, 2020

HANNAHVILLE – The Hannahville Nah Tah Wahsh boys basketball team likes to play uptempo and has a knack for hitting 3-point field goals.

The Soaring Eagles excelled at both on their home court Feb. 5 when they sank an Upper Peninsula-record 24 3-point shots in a 73-39 triumph over Northern Lights League rival Big Bay de Noc. They also drained 20 trifectas just four days earlier in a 68-20 victory on Mackinac Island.

In addition to tops in the U.P., the 24 3-pointers also rank third all-time in MHSAA history, while the 20 are tied for seventh-most by a team in one game.

"We didn't think that was a big deal," said 6-foot-2 junior Joe Larson, who connected on six 3-point shots for 18 points against Big Bay. "It's just great to be part of this program. It's like a family atmosphere.

“Coach (Josh Eagle) wants us to split it up a little. He wants us to work the ball inside and continue shooting the threes. Getting the record was so much fun and getting 20 at Mackinac Island got us a step closer. We still need to work on some little things in practice. Once we get those ironed out, we'll be fine."

Eagle tries to encourage the players to take the 3-point shots, which he believes is just part of the game.

"We try to get a shot up pretty quick," he said. "Earlier this season, the kids were pretty shy about shooting the threes when we were facing zones. Now, they're not shy. Our strength is running the floor. We try to launch as many threes as we can and get offensive rebounds."

The Soaring Eagles (14-4) rode an eight-game winning streak into last weekend's NLL Tournament, where they beat Beaver Island and then lost in the championship game to Kinross Maplewood Baptist.

In their previous outing the Saturday before, sophomore Gage Sagataw scored 23 points as the Soaring Eagles hung on for a 60-58 triumph over Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter.

Sagataw sank seven triples and scored 22 points on Hannahville's record-setting night.

"It felt great to do that," he said. "We've been close friends for a long time, which made it more special. We put a lot of time in on our shooting in the offseason, but sometimes we have to rely on our defense. It doesn't bother me if I miss a three because I know we just have to get back on defense.”

Hannahville now will prepare for the Division 4 District tournament at Rapid River. The Soaring Eagles face Rock Mid Peninsula in a District Semifinal on March 11.

Eagle coached the girls team at neighboring Bark River-Harris for three seasons prior to returning as boys coach to the school on the Potawatomi Reservation in northeastern Menominee County.

"They always work real hard, and we're giving them the opportunity to become men," said Eagle, who coached boys and girls basketball at Hannahville prior to his time at BR-H. "Training the kids to be good people and teaching them the value of hard work is the main objective. Seth Miller (former coach), Ross Rahoi (current assistant coach) and I work with each other and other people from the community to help make them good representatives.

"We're proud of all the players. They're good ambassadors for the community, and as always, there's a long road ahead of us."

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hannahville’s Joe Larson (14) looks for an open teammate during this past weekend’s Northern Lights League Tournament game against Mackinac Island. (Middle) Gage Sagataw brings the ball up the court. (Photos by Robyn Rhode.)

Beecher Earns Opportunity to 'Complete the Task' with Semifinal Win

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 23, 2023

EAST LANSING — Flint Beecher and Ecorse entered their Division 3 Semifinal on Thursday with at least one common thread of motivation. 

Both lost in last year’s Semifinals, so both the Buccaneers and Raiders were looking to leave Breslin Center with some vindication. 

Ultimately, Beecher was the team that did so, earning a 64-54 win over Ecorse and advancing to its seventh championship game since 2012.

Senior guard Robert Lee and senior forward Kevin Tiggs both scored 17 points to lead the way for Beecher (23-4). 

“We’re not satisfied with this,” Beecher head coach Marquise Gray said. “This is just one part of completing the task.” 

The difference in the game turned out to be that Beecher simply had more depth, which eventually wore down Ecorse. 

Beecher featured an eight-player rotation, while Ecorse, with the exception of one substitution late in the third quarter, played its starters throughout until the game got away late. 

“We figured we would wear them down,” Gray said. “Looking at their bench, we saw that they didn’t have a deep bench. But the focus, energy and effort was on us, and us executing defensively and offensively.”

The Bucs’ Kevin Tiggs Jr. (1) pulls in a rebound while Ecorse’s Deontae Jude (11) also grabs for the ball.A big reason why Ecorse was short-handed was because one of its best players, senior Kenneth Morrast, was out after suffering a broken wrist in a Regional Final. 

Ecorse head coach Gerrod Abram said he believes his team would have won this weekend’s championship if his squad was at full strength, but also heaped praise on Beecher and its playmakers. 

Abram said before Morrast’s injury, his squad didn’t play any zone all year. But after he was injured, Abram said his team had to adjust on the fly and start playing a zone defense that he didn’t want to employ, but had to in order to keep players out of foul trouble. 

Senior Malik Olafioye scored 22 points, and sophomore point guard Darrien Reddick scored 14 to lead Ecorse (20-5). 

“Extremely proud of the effort we put out,” Abram said. “We knew it was going to be a big task with the way they play. We gave everything that we had. We just ran out of gas at the end.”

Beecher took a 40-34 lead into the fourth quarter, but Ecorse scored the first five points of the fourth to cut Beecher’s lead to one with 6:10 remaining in the game. 

The Buccaneers answered, going on a 9-0 run to grab a 49-39 lead with 4:30 left. 

Ecorse closed to within seven at 51-44 with 3:37 remaining following a 3-pointer by Reddick, but Beecher responded with four straight points to take a 55-44 lead with 2:42 remaining. 

Beecher ultimately punctuated the win on a flying dunk by Lee with 1:09 remaining. Lee was also fouled on the dunk, and he made the free throw for a three-point play to give Beecher a 60-48 lead. 

“What I really focused on was just trying to get my teammates involved,” Lee said. “Not try to force shots. Just let the game come to me.” 

Now, Beecher will turn its focus to reclaiming its status as the best in the state.

“That’s something we have talked about, remembering the feeling that we had last year when we didn’t complete the job,” Gray said. “Guys have been taking it to heart. It’s not a rite. You have to earn your way here. It’s not a given.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher’s Robert Lee Jr. (22) sends a pass into the post during Thursday’s Semifinal win over Ecorse. (Middle) The Bucs’ Kevin Tiggs Jr. (1) pulls in a rebound while Ecorse’s Deontae Jude (11) also grabs for the ball.