Junior hoopsters win first at home tourney

Screams of delight were highly audible on the Muskie junior girls basketball team’s bench. The only sound louder may have been the sighs of relief.
A difficult campaign which has been marked by steadily improving play but no victories, finally came to fruition for the Muskies, who chalked up their first win of the year in the opening game of their eight-team annual home tournament Friday afternoon by doubling the Westgate Tigers from Thunder Bay 30-15.
“This weekend has boosted our confidence so much,” said Fort Frances coach Michelle Mosbeck, after her team followed the win with two near misses in losing 40-36 to the Port Arthur Collegiate Institute (PACI) Redmen and then 32-30 to the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints in the “A” side consolation final.
“We could have had three wins. This is a young team, you have to remember that (only three veterans). But it’s incredible the difference in all aspects of their game since the start of the season.”
The St. Ignatius Falcons captured the tournament championship by defeating the Redmen in Saturday evening’s final. The score was unavailable at press time.
With veterans Janelle Williamson and Katie McTavish benched for the first quarter due to a school infraction, the Muskies were out of sync on offence in the first quarter against Westgate, trailing 6-4 at the end of the period.
But when the pair returned to the floor for the second, the Muskie machine began to roll, with an 8-0 run leading to a 12-8 half-time lead.
The third quarter saw the Muskies go on a 6-0 run to lead by 10, as Fort Frances turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor to force a bevy of turnovers.
“Our press was working really well, and Westgate wasn’t used to seeing a zone defence, since that’s not allowed in the Thunder Bay league,” noted Mosbeck.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as the Muskie defence held the Tigers to just two field goals in the second half.
First-year forward Jessica Woodgate led the Muskies with 10 points, while McTavish scored all eight of her points in the second half. Kristina Hall paced Westgate with seven.
Staggered start
Saturday afternoon, Fort Frances got off to a horrific start in racking up seven fouls to put PACI in the bonus before the end of the opening quarter, and staking the Redmen to an 11-2 lead entering the second.
“It hurt us to make only one basket in the first quarter,” said Mosbeck. “But we managed to stay with them or beat them in every quarter after that.”
McTavish started to carry the offence in the second, and with some timely outside shooting, the Muskies cut the lead to 23-17 at the half.
The Muskies looked dead in the water when Williamson, the team’s scoring leader this season, picked up her fourth foul with 2:38 left in the third as the Muskies fell behind 35-25 heading to the fourth.
But Williamson shook off the foul concerns to key the comeback, and even with Woodgate fouling out with 6:14 to play, Fort Frances whittled the Redmen lead to 37-35 after McTavish sunk a pair of foul shots.
“That’s the way Janelle is,” explanined Mosbeck about Williamson’s ability to rise to the occasion. “If she has a few fouls, she’s more into the game. I was the same way when I played.”
The tie was within the Muskies’ grasp after they stole the subsequent inbounds pass, but three missed inside shots during the sequence kept the Redmen out front.
Free throws on both sides made it 39-36 for PACI, when Natalie Desjardins’ attempted three-pointer to tie with 50 seconds remaining rolled around the rim and out, ultimately proving to be the Muskies’ last good chance to pull even.
McTavish had a team-high 10 points for the Muskies, while Williamson added nine. Cindy Arpin sparked the PACI offence with 13 points, while Mackenzie Thompson pitched in with 11.
Saints squeaker
Fort Frances was much sharper from the opening tip against St. Thomas Aquinas, dashing to an 8-2 lead. The Kenora school then put together a 7-0 run to grab the advantage early in the second quarter, thanks to some weak transition defence by the Muskies which led to several breakaway lay-up opportunities for the Saints.
Fouls again plagued Fort Frances, who found themselves with seven fouls to none for the Saints with 5:48 left in the quarter, as St. Thomas Aquinas went up 19-14 at the break.
An offensively shaky third quarter for both teams kept the Saints’ lead at five. That led to a bizarre, yet effective rallying speech by Mosbeck in the huddle before the start of the fourth.
“I asked them if their coach was cool, and they all shouted ‘yeah!’ and laughed,” said a jovial Mosbeck. “I just wanted to remind them that this is supposed to be fun. Sometimes they get so worked up and want to win so bad that it works against them.”
A more relaxed Fort Frances team launched an inspired comeback down the stretch, with first-year post Rachelle Abma notching her first two baskets of the year at the most opportune moment.
Abma ripped down an offensive rebound, and sank the follow-up shot to pull the Muskies to within 29-28. She then made good on another inside jump shot to put Fort Frances ahead by one with 1:55 to play, after Woodgate made a stellar play to grab another offensive board.
“Rachelle showed some impressive rebounding toughness under the basket,” praised Mosbeck. “If we can get her and Michelle Cournoyer playing tougher down low, with their height, it’s going to get us a lot more shot opportunities.”
But after a Saints timeout, St. Thomas Aquinas caught the Muskies napping on the inbounds play, as Jess Trent scored her only basket of the game to put the visitors ahead to stay.
The Muskies had one more shot to square the contest when the Saints missed the back end of a one-and-one with three seconds left, but Desjardins’ desperation heave from half-court fell short at the buzzer.
Lizel DeGagne, whose outside shooting confounded the Muskies, led the Saints with 15 points, including 10 of her team’s 13 in the second half. Williamson responded with 10 for Fort Frances.