Junior boys strike gold

It’s rare that a coach is completely satisfied with a victory.
Normally, a team’s bench boss will balance any praise he offers with a few complaints about certain aspects of his team’s performance.
It’s simply the nature of coaching to be constantly striving to improve the squad.
Muskie junior boys’ basketball head coach Gord McCabe hasn’t allowed his team to be completely satisfied with their play all season.
He wasn’t satisfied when his team won seven-straight league games after dropping their season-opener. Nor was he satisfied when they won the NorWOSSA regular-season crown.
There was always something to improve: the defensive rotations needed to be quicker, the team needed someone to step up and provide some secondary scoring, the players had to think more on the court.
Therefore, it is extremely telling of the manner in which the Muskies played the NorWOSSA final last Thursday in Dryden that even their toughest critic could find nothing to fault.
“We had 11 kids and I told them that they deserved it [NorWOSSA gold] but that everybody had to come to play, and 11 kids came to play,” McCabe enthused after the game.
“I couldn’t find one kid that I could find fault with.”
The Muskies dominated the host Eagles from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer, cruising to an easy 68-42 victory.
As he had all season, centre Kurt Hill set the tone early for the black-and-gold, establishing a strong inside presence on both offence and defence.
“Obviously Kurt Hill set the tone early,” McCabe remarked. “He was fabulous offensively and we didn’t keep stats but he probably had seven or eight blocks.”
When the Eagles finally collapsed their defence in an effort to negate Hill’s impact, the Muskie guards took over—driving to the hoop for easy lay-ups.
“We found that if you beat the first man, they don’t play help defence very well,” McCabe noted. “So we told our guys, ‘if you get by your guy, keep right on going.’
“We did make a lot of baskets on lay-ups.”
Had it not been for some strong outside shooting by Dryden’s Jared MacKinney, the Eagles may have found themselves shut out in the first quarter.
As it was, the Muskies built a huge 21-8 lead after the opening eight minutes of play.
Afterwards, Muskie guard Justin Bujold credited the strong opening quarter with helping to settle any nerves the squad might have been feeling prior to the game.
“Once we got past the first quarter, the whole team felt confident we could keep playing the way we were and win,” he noted.
The Muskie onslaught continued in the second quarter as the black-and-gold began pressuring the Eagles on defence. The tactic produced dramatic results.
“The pressure helped us quite a bit,” said guard Kurtis Gustafson. “It got us a lot of turnovers and some extra points.”
The easy baskets allowed the Muskies to extend their lead to 34-19 at the half.
Despite the sizable advantage, McCabe encouraged his players to keep up the pressure in the third quarter in order to ensure the Eagles didn’t claw their way back into the game.
“It was 15 points at halftime and we knew the third quarter was going to be the difference,” McCabe said afterwards. “If we could open it up to 20, it was over, but if they closed it up to 10, we had a basketball game.”
McCabe went to his bench early in the third quarter looking for some fresh legs to help salt away the victory.
And the move would prove wise as reserve Eli Boshkaykin had his best quarter of the season—netting 10 points courtesy of some strong outside shooting to extend the Muskie lead to more than 20 points heading into the final quarter of play.
With the game well in hand, McCabe decided to take a look at some of next season’s projected lineup, playing Grade 9s Dan Brunetta, Josh Strain, and Justin Anderson alongside graduating players Theron Holden and Aaron Oakes.
The results remained eerily similar as the young Muskies produced turnovers and filled the basket en route to the eventual 68-42 win.
“I was really pleased,” McCabe said of the play of the rookies. “We were able to play everybody and everyone played well.”
Hill led the black-and-gold with 16 points in the final while Bujold added 15.
There is no provincial championship in the junior ranks.
As a result, the Muskie juniors will wrap up their season tomorrow (Feb. 22) with an exhibition game against the host International Falls Broncos’ Grade 9 squad at 6 p.m.