ESCANABA - A day before Christmas is a good time to recall how area athletes provided an early Christmas present.
The Escanaba and Gladstone boys and girls basketball teams surpassed expectations Friday with a pair of thrillers, both games going the distance before they were decided.
It was the first time the two varsitys played a twinbill, and it couldn't have gone off any better.
Daily Press sports editor
The opening game was a nail-biter, going right to the final buzzer, which sounded as Hilary Austin's eight-foot shot was in the air to give Gladstone a scintillating 46-45 victory.
It spoiled an impressive performance by the underdog Eskymos, who had seemingly pulled off the upset when Melissa Zimmerman hit a baseline jumper with six seconds left for a tenuous 45-44 lead.
Just think about those final six seconds. The Braves rushed the ball to mid-court, got a hasty timeout with 3.5 seconds left, in-bounded the pass to Austin, who took a couple of quick dribbles and barely got off a contested shot.
That is a lot of action in a short sequence. Wow.
Gladstone's 33-25 third-quarter advantage was the widest gap in the game, but Esky scored the final seven points to nearly erase that deficit and set up a dramatic final frame in which the lead changed hands six times, including four times in the closing 40 seconds.
If that wasn't enough excitement for one night, the boys almost surpassed it. All-state football lineman Kent King, who didn't even play basketball last year, hit four free throws for Gladstone in the fourth quarter, including a clinching pair with 3.1 seconds left for a 58-54 victory.
The unique twinbill seemed to go off without a hitch, and begs for a repeat. The lone drawback is the host team loses a night of income, a big concern in these budget times, by having the teams play the same night rather than separate nights.
The only negative to the whole night was the absence of the EHS cheerleaders for the girls game. Instead of being on the sidelines where they belonged, they were in the balcony during the second half warming up for the boys game.
They should have been on the floor celebrating this rare twinbill with their classmates and fans for both games, or they didn't belong there at all. There is simply no excuse or reason for that snub.
l Sweetgrass Golf Course has added a couple of other distinquished awards.
Golfweek magazine ranked the course No. 20 among casino courses in the United States, and it has been tabbed the best casino course in Michigan by Indian Gaming magazine.
Sweetgrass was the only Michigan course ranked by Golfweek among the top 20 casino courses in the country. Surprised that Wild Bluff Golf Course in Brimley did not make that list.
Golf Digest, in its January issue, has Sweetgrass No. 9 among best new courses in the USA.
l Wrestling has been restored to the Norway High School athletic program. It was cut earlier this school year.
It will be self-funded with a volunteer coach, Nick Burklund, who requested the restoration. His son has been wrestling as an independent since the sport was eliminated.