Muskies stand proud despite sweep

The 2001-02 edition of the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team was supposed to be rebuilding.
But even after adapting to the lost of four starters from last season, the black-and-gold still found themselves on the brink of returning to the all-Ontarios at season’s end.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” said Muskie co-coach Mike Busch after his team was swept by the visiting Thunder Bay champion Hillcrest Colts in the best-of-three NWOSSAA championship, losing 55-45 on Friday afternoon and then 67-54 on Saturday morning.
“We didn’t have the same talent this year as we did last year, but we had a team that fought until the end,” he stressed.
“I think we were the underdogs but we were surprised how well we did,” said rookie forward Keith McKay. “We thought we could win [the series] even after that first game.”
Muskie co-captain Jamie Algie, who scored 12 points Friday and 10 more Saturday, didn’t buy the fact his team was the underdog just because Hillcrest (13-1) excelled in the larger Thunder Bay league this season.
“I was impressed with how we played. I don’t think going in we knew what we were up against,” the OAC student said. “We adapted well. It was a just a matter of who could hold out the longest.”
Colts head coach Wayne Magill said in terms of playing hard, he didn’t see much difference between this Muskie squad and the one that beat Hillcrest in the NWOSSAA final there last year.
“They would do very well in the Thunder Bay league. They play as well as any team we’ve been up against,” added Magill, whose squad routinely dumped their opponents by an average of 10 points or more.
The difference in both games was the Colts’ ability to turn it up in the late going. The Muskies blew fourth-quarter leads in both games, allowing Hillcrest to reel off a 20-9 run on Friday and a 17-4 one to open Saturday’s decisive quarter.
The black-and-gold had fought back from a 36-32 halftime deficit in Saturday’s contest and grabbed a 47-40 lead heading into the final quarter.
“We made a few mistakes and they pressured us. They should have beaten us by 20 points in each of these games,” said Busch. “They have to feel fortunate they beat us at all.”
Steve Zapior and Matt Kirychuk were the Muskies’ biggest pain on the weekend. Zapior netted 20 points in the opener while Kirychuk had 17 in the second game to lead all scorers.
First-year guard Kevin Gemmell led the Muskies with 19 points on Saturday. He and older brother, Jock, paced the team with 13 each Friday.
Jock Gemmell played Friday despite injuring his left ankle during warm-ups. But he was forced to sit out his final high school basketball game Saturday.
The Colts took advantage of the absent forward as they out-rebounded the Muskies 44-23 in that final game.
“Losing Jock in the second game hurt us underneath the basket,” said Algie.
Magill said it was satisfying to avenge last year’s NWOSSAA loss and advance to their first OFSAA championship (which began today in Stratford) in almost 30 years.
“We evened things out. It’ll be interesting to see how things work out in the coming years,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the Muskies—who won their third-straight Nor-WOSSA title to earn a berth at NWOSSAA—now face another loss as starters Algie, Gemmell, Travis Derkson, and Josh McMahon all are set to graduate this spring.
Lack of size up front is one thing the team will have to improve on, said McKay.
“It’s going to be tough,” he warned. “We’re going to have to expect a lot from ourselves and the juniors coming up. We’ll work on it and see how it goes.”
“Next year’s team looks good,” said Algie. “I’m not sure what other [NorWOSSA] towns are losing. We’ve had some first-year guys who stepped up and played big all year.”