Trojans sweep Muskies for NWOSSAA title

Darren Johnson went home Friday night hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
“I told my wife [Friday] night we were going to lose by 20 today,” Johnson said after his Muskie senior girls’ basketball team was beaten 43-22 here Saturday afternoon by the Churchill Trojans (Thunder Bay) to sweep the best-of-three NWOSSAA final.
Churchill had won the opener 44-30 on Friday afternoon.
“We were hoping to upset them in Game 1 but I just had that feeling,” Johnson added.
It was a less-than-happy birthday for the coach Saturday, who watched his team have a difficult weekend both shooting and holding on to the ball against the Trojans, who had upset the top-ranked St. Ignatius Falcons in the Thunder Bay playoffs earlier in the week.
After winning the NorWOSSA championship in Dryden on Nov. 8, the Muskies knew they were underdogs heading into the confrontation with Churchill.
A full house watched both teams struggle with nerves to find their game early in Friday’s opener, with each side making only one field goal in the first quarter as the Trojans led 5-3.
Churchill’s aggressive defence keyed a 7-0 run in the second quarter, but the Muskies then reeled off the next six to trail just 14-13 at the half.
A back-and-forth third quarter ended on a controversial three-pointer by Churchill’s Sara Chow at the buzzer that gave the Trojans a 27-25 lead heading into the fourth.
The turning point of the series came with 5:54 to play, and the Trojans up 31-29, when Muskie forward Danielle McGee lunged toward the bleachers to try and salvage a defensive rebound after a missed three-pointer by Chow.
But the veteran landed hard on her left knee, twisting it badly enough that she stayed down for several minutes.
McGee hobbled off the floor, and even returned with three minutes to go, but by then the Muskies’ balloon had burst.
“We lost the series when Danielle went down,” said Johnson, who watched his team get outscored 13-1 after McGee’s injury. “It took the wind out of us.”
Steph Lockert led the Trojans with 17 points Friday afternoon while Chow added eight. Tricia Smith paced the Muskie offence with 11 while McGee chipped in six.
McGee started on the bench for the second game Saturday morning, but entered the fray with 2:25 left in the first quarter.
“It was my decision to put her in then, but Danielle would have played the whole game if I’d let her,” Johnson said.
But McGee’s presence was not enough to keep her team close, as the Trojans outscored the Muskies 13-4 in the second quarter to take a commanding 20-7 lead at half-time.
The black-and-gold only hit three field goals in the half, leading captain Carling Barton to tip her hats to the Trojans.
“They had better outside shooters and played good inside defence against us,” said Barton, one of eight seniors the team will lose to graduation before next season.
“We couldn’t shoot as well as they could.”
Churchill went on another 7-0 run to start the third quarter as the Muskies failed to score until a McGee free throw with 4:13 left in the period—her only point of the game.
With 3:22 to go in the fourth quarter and the Trojans ahead 34-18, McGee re-injured her knee trying to make a cut while playing defence and went down in a tearful heap.
Her departure was accompanied by a warm ovation from the appreciative crowd—and earned her even more praise from her coach.
“She was out there stealing passes and diving for loose balls on one leg,” said Johnson. “If you characterize us as a team by Danielle McGee, then I’m pretty proud of that.”
Barton had seven points in Saturday’s finale, with Jessica Wilson and Smith each chipping in with four.
Muskie forward Christina Romaniuk, who had two points Saturday, said there was no shame in losing to the talented Trojans.
“I’m really proud of our team,” she remarked. “We wanted it so bad, and to work our hearts out through the whole weekend, and we did.
“I was really happy to have the experience of being on this team. We played like a team the whole year,” Romaniuk added.
Johnson refused to predict doom and gloom for next season, despite the imminent mass exodus of players, and instead chose to focus on the positives.
“Miranda Miller can start for this team right now, and has this season. Carley McCormick can start for this team right now, and has this season,” he noted.
“Melanie Hyatt is a hell of a basketball player. With more floor time, she’s going to be a star,” he added.
“‘Mouse’ [Stephanie Mattson] had a tough year because she’s smaller. But she’ll work hard in the off-season because that’s what she cares about,” Johnson said.
“[And] there’s some giants coming up [from the junior team],” he continued. “Ashley Whalen, Laura Busch, and Jodi Caul are not only athletes, but bigger players.
“[Shooting guard] Ashlyn Jewell can step right in and replace Allison [Hyatt].
“Rebecca Cornell is a player, and now she’ll get to play her natural position [point guard], and Taylor Harnett proved she can contribute offensively and defensively.
“It is not going to be a rebuilding year [in 2003],” Johnson vowed.