EagleHerald/Brian Bell
Menominee coach Sam Larson and the rest of the Maroons show appreciation in the fourth quarter as the clock winds down to seal Menominee’s first district finals appearance in three years.
EagleHerald/Brian Bell

Menominee coach Sam Larson and the rest of the Maroons show appreciation in the fourth quarter as the clock winds down to seal Menominee’s first district finals appearance in three years.

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MENOMINEE — After struggling from the field in Menominee’s 69-53 victory over Houghton on Monday night, Maroons’ Aidan Bellisle came alive in the Division 2 District 33 semifinals against Gladstone, scoring a season-high 28 points and leading Menominee to a 74-64 win to end the Braves’ season. With the win, Menominee advances to its first district championship game since 2017.

Bellisle burst out of the gates to score nine points in the opening quarter and after being held to just one in the second he found his stroke in the final 16 minutes as he scored 18 more while adding five rebounds, seven assists and five steals.

“We tried to get Aidan going right away out of the start of the game and got him the ball a couple of times in good situations and the same thing to start the second half,” Menominee coach Sam Larson said. “This is the Aidan that we know is capable of being here every night and we’ve been waiting for him to pull it out and this was a great time to do it.”

Noah Ballard’s second basket in the opening minutes gave Gladstone a 9-6 lead but Bellisle drove baseline for his third basket and Zach Starzynski tied it up a minute later by splitting a pair of free throws.

With the game tied at 9, the Braves got two buckets from Cam Ballard and one from Rane Castor to take a 15-9 advantage but Menominee answered right back with a basket inside from Keaton Uecke and then Bellisle stole a pass and dished it up ahead to Keagan Monroe who slammed it home to bring the Maroons’ back within two.

Menominee took its first lead of the game when Bellisle knocked down a triple from the wing and Uecke scored inside, but Cam Ballard’s drive to the bucket and basket gave Gladstone a 19-18 lead after the first.

The Maroons allowed Ballard and Castor multiple lanes to the basket in the first quarter which led to easy baskets, and Larson spoke to his team about that in the huddle before the second quarter started.

“I thought our first quarter defense was terrible. We were giving up drives to the rim all the time and Castor and Ballard were living in the lane. When you let two really good players get to the rim like that all of the time you’re going to be in rough shape and I thought the second and third quarter we really buckled down on that much better,” Larson said.

A 6-0 Maroons’ run to start the second quarter was halted when Castor split a pair at the charity stripe, and after a Gladstone timeout with 4:33 left until halftime, Larson called sophomore Cooper Conway’s number out of the timeout and he delivered.

Conway sank back-to-back 3-pointers on the same set play against Gladstone’s zone defense and that gave Menominee a spark when it needed it most and gave the Maroons some separation and room to breathe.

“Coop really gave us the separation we needed in the second quarter to give us the chance to take control of the rest of the game,” Larson said. “Whenever we can get him open it’s nice because he puts a lot of time in the gym and he’s a great shooter.”

Gladstone closed the half on an 8-3 run to cut the deficit to 33-28 and Noah Ballard scored the first basket in the second half to close the gap to three, but the Braves went cold from the floor and Menominee outscored them 21-13 in the third. The Maroons’ once again got back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter, this time from Bellisle with the second coming on a pull up from the top of the key after stealing it at half court. Bellisle scored 10 points in the third quarter and dished out three of his seven assists.

“At halftime coach Steve (Schahczenski) and Larson told me to punch it against (Gladstone’s) press and it would be open for me and that got me a lot of easy looks,” Bellisle said. “I finally started to hit some shots from the outside and that gave me some confidence and then my teammates found the open spots in the zone and did a good job of finishing at the rim.”

For the game, Gladstone shot 24-58 (41%) from the field and 3-14 (21%) from the 3-point line.

“We just couldn’t hit shots and that was kind of the theme of the night for us,” Gladstone coach Dane Quigley said. “We just weren’t getting anything to fall and it was hard to keep up with (Menominee). The real frustrating part about it was we were sitting here coaching and looking to make adjustments but I really didn’t know where to go because I didn’t feel like we were doing anything all that bad, we just couldn’t hit shots and Menominee did.”

In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Monroe — who had an unusually quiet night for the Maroons — lit up the gym with a steal at half court and a fastbreak two-handed jam on one end, then he raced down court to deflect a pass out of bounds on the other to get the crowd rocking and give Menominee a 60-48 advantage.

When Monroe doesn’t get his points on the offensive end, Menominee has struggled in the past to find other players to contribute, but in the last few weeks, the Maroons have found that production as they now have had six different players score in double-figures in the last two games.

“Not only was that a phenomenal effort and one of the better sequences I’ve ever seen, but it got our fans engaged in the game and it was just a great extra effort from him,” Larson said. “If teams are going to key on him, it’s nice to have other guys step up and score and we’ve become a much more balanced team this last month of the season.”

Gladstone got the lead to within single digits twice in the fourth quarter — once on a triple from Castor and again on a steal and layup from St. John — but never got closer than eight points and Menominee finished the game off with Bellisle knocking down a pair of bonus free throws with just over a minute remaining.

Backing Bellisle’s big game for the Maroons was Conway with his second-consecutive 14-point outing and he added seven rebounds; Uecke had 10 points and 10 boards and Monroe finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

For the Braves, Castor led the way with 18 points, Cam Ballard had 17 and Caden Alworden and Noah Ballard had nine each.

Menominee — who has now won six in a row and nine of its last 10 — will host Escanaba for the Division 2 District 33 championship at Menominee High School at 6 p.m. on Friday.

GLADSTONE (64) — Castor 18, C. Ballard 17, Alworden 9, N. Ballard 9, St. John 5, Hughes 3, Hagebusch 3. FTs: 13-23.

MENOMINEE (74) — Bellisle 28, Conway 14, Uecke 10, Monroe 8, Sartorelli 6, Barrette 4, Starzynski 3, Badker 1. FTs: 16-23.

Halftime score: Menominee 33, Gladstone 28