Muskies snakebitten in hoop finals

The old adage, “It’s not how you start but how you finish,” is one that is haunting the Muskie girls’ basketball program this week.
That’s because both squads lost their respective NorWOSSA finals last Friday in Dryden after dominating league play during the regular season, each finishing atop the standings with 7-1 records.
But neither one could win the game that counted most.
The seniors came out on the short end of a disappointing 41-31 score against the Kenora Broncos, who had advanced to the final after dumping the Eagles in the semi-final 34-21 earlier in the day.
It certainly wasn’t the way the team wanted to end what otherwise was a fantastic season.
“I’ve been coaching for 17 years and this loss hurts as much as any of them,” Muskie head coach Gord McCabe remarked.
“When you go into the final game, it’s more mental than anything else,” noted assistant coach Kent Kowalski. “When you go in as the favourite, you have everything to lose.”
The Muskies’ talented lineup pitted their speed and quickness against Kenora’s size up front. This time, size won.
“We have to give full credit to their big players, they played very well,” said McCabe. “We were slow in adjusting to the pace. It was a high-tempo game and we couldn’t keep up and that’s been our forte.
“They beat us down the floor and against them, it’s always their size versus our speed,” he added. “They learned to go down the floor faster but we can’t teach our kids to be taller.”
McCabe also can’t teach his players to defend against the three-point shot. One Bronco hit a trio of three-pointers, leaving the Muskies to make up nine points right there.
Kowalski said that very well could have been the difference in the game.
“Kenora was very hyped but when they can bank three three-pointers, that makes a world of difference,” he remarked. “Still, Kenora wasn’t the better team. They played their best game and we played [our worst].
“I just wish this loss would have happened earlier in the season,” he lamented.
The Muskies struggled especially on offence Friday. Sarah Noonan, coming off an ankle injury, led the way with 11 points. After that, no one else was close.
In fact, with Siobhan Devlin–the team’s main offensive weapon inside–battling the ’flu, the Muskies essentially lost their top scorer underneath. She finished with just four points.
That hurt the Muskies right from the start when Kenora built up a 15-6 advantage. The black-and-gold took a bite out of that lead in the second quarter and trailed by just four–23-19–at halftime.
But it was all Kenora in the second half, with the Broncos holding the Muskies to just two points in the final quarter.
McCabe said their offence had trouble getting in sync all day.
“We had too many bad passes, too many turnovers,” admitted McCabe. “It was not our best game but I think the fact Sarah and Siobhan were not at their best played a part.”
< *c>Similar fate
Meanwhile, the junior Muskies endured a similar fate to their season Friday in Dryden, dropping a heart-breaking 36-33 decision to the host Eagles in the final.
The black-and-gold made a valiant effort to tie the game in the waning seconds but Danielle McGee’s desperation shot from about eight feet outside the three-point line fell just short.
The Muskies had led 10-9 after the first quarter and 14-13 at the half. But a huge 15-8 third-quarter run by the Eagles ended up being the difference.
McGee led the Muskies with eight points while Allison Hyatt netted six.
Dryden had advanced to the final with a 38-19 thrashing of the Kenora Broncos in the semi-final.
But while the teams couldn’t win the big game, the coaches came away feeling this was one of the most satisfying seasons in girls’ basketball here for quite some time.
“I think we improved a lot until the middle of October,” said McCabe. “I think it was an excellent season. And a whole season is a process and we can’t judge it on one game.”
The seniors will lose just two players–albeit key ones–in Laureen Cousineau and Christine Noonan so Kowalski feels they should field the strongest lineup in NorWOSSA once again next season.
The Broncos, on the other hand, expect to lose six OAC players, including all five of their starters.
“The girls’ program as a whole will again be strong,” said Kowalski. “We should still be a force among the three schools.”