Their faces stained with a mixture of sweat and tears, the Robert Moore Mustangs’ fantastic four were left to wonder what their fate might have been had they been at least a five-pack.
The Mustangs made their stand at the Crossroads Tornadoes boys’ basketball tournament in Devlin on Saturday with just four players at their disposal due to wintry road conditions keeping the rest of their squad at home in Fort Frances.
The brave quartet almost completed a miraculous championship run but they ran out of gas in the gold-medal final, losing a narrow 11-8 decision to the host Tornadoes.
The twin towers of Alex Gustafson and Adam Stromberg, along with the speedy brother tandem of Kevin and Liam Metke, overcame their shorthanded situation to finish second in the preliminary round with a 2-1 record.
In the final, though, the Mustangs hit no shots from the field in the first half and only two in the game as a relentless full-court press in the second half by Crossroads forced a bevy of turnovers and few open shot chances.
The Tornadoes led just 4-2 at the half in a defensive struggle between two fatigued teams each playing their fourth game of the day.
Crossroads couldn’t fully put Robert Moore away, but were buoyed by the strong forward play of Trent Redsky, Cole Kowalski, and Jacob Empey, as well as the all-around effort of Finn Chalupsky, Joey Angus, Ross Steele, Reece Jones, William Busch, and Isaac Smith.
Crossroads had clinched a spot in the final by going a perfect 3-0 during the preliminary round with wins over Robert Moore, the Sturgeon Creek Sturgeons (1-2), and J.W. Walker Wildcats (0-3).
The theme of the opening tournament of the Rainy River District Athletic Association boys’ basketball season was parity given only one game was decided by more than 10 points the entire day.
The Sturgeons left with the bronze medal after eking out a 20-19 overtime win over the Wildcats in a game that saw a small dosage of chaos at the end of regulation time.
With the scoreboard showing Sturgeon Creek up by two points in the dying seconds, J.W. Walker drained the tying bucket—only to have the scorekeeper put the points up on the Sturgeons’ side of the board.
The mistake was quickly discovered and corrected, setting up the three-minute overtime.
In the extra session, Sturgeon Creek managed only one field goal, but it was enough to get the job done as J.W. Walker couldn’t buy a basket and mustered only one free throw.
The second boys’ tournament of the season is set for Saturday, Feb. 12 at Robert Moore School in Fort Frances, although the date for another tourney at St. Patrick’s School in Atikokan has yet to be announced and may be held before the one here.
Meanwhile, the RRDAA girls’ hoops season kicks off in earnest this Saturday, with Crossroads again playing host.
The regional championships—set for Saturday, Feb. 26—tentatively are slated for Fort Frances High School.
However, should one of the Muskies senior court teams capture the NorWOSSA title and subsequently host the NWOSSAA championship against the Thunder Bay rep that weekend, the girls regionals will be held at J.W. Walker while the boys will square off at Robert Moore.