Basketball is a game of runs and in the end the Muskie senior boys' squad just didn't have enough to match their opponents.
The St. Ignatius Falcons (Thunder Bay) used a relentless full-court pressure and excellent second halves in both games to sweep the best-of-three NWOSSAA championship against the Muskies here over the weekend.
The two-time defending NorWOSSA champs were beaten 70-48 by the Thunder Bay winners in Game 1 on Friday afternoon and then again 85-48 on Saturday morning.
St. Ignatius now advances to the OFSAA 'AA' championship running March 9-11 in Windsor.
“It's tough just because they are big, they are athletic too, so it's much harder to pass the ball around,” Muskie guard Mike Vanderaa, who played in his final high school games, said of facing a tough opponent in the Falcons after Game 2.
“They have a very aggressive man defence, so it's very tough playing them. It's harder to score than we have in the past in our NorWOSSA league, so it's a big change coming here to NWOSSAA playing with them.”
Game 2 on Saturday morning saw an early back and forth between the Muskies and the Falcons, with William Richards' free throw knotting it at 11-11 with 45 seconds to go in the first quarter.
His brother, Wyatt, then also made good on one of his free throws moments later to stake the black-and-gold to a narrow 12-11 lead heading to the second.
The Falcons took their first lead at 19-18 on a pair of free throw takes, four minutes before halftime.
That was then followed by a 21-2 run as St. Ignatius started to take control of the game yet again.
Sean Huziak sank a three for the Muskies to trim it to 38-23 at halftime.
The Muskies turned the ball over on an early in-bound play in the third, sparking a 4-0 run by the Falcons and their relentless full-court pressure and quick strike transition offence had them leading 68-33 heading into the fourth.
St. Ignatius then pulled its starters and emptied the bench in the final period as they cruised to NWOSSAA gold.
“Yesterday we were [close] at halftime and today, the first quarter we were up by one even. But it's just playing that full game and being able to push through constantly,” said Vanderaa, who finished Game 2 with six points for the Muskies.
“We ran into runs where they would score multiple points on us and that would just bring our energy down, but we just gotta find a way to keep pushing through that and keep going and maybe our outcome would be a bit better. Yeah, it's tough. When they go on hard runs like that it's hard to keep the energy up on the bench and on the floor.”
Huziak led the Muskies with 12 points in the loss while Wyatt Richards added nine.
Ethan Willmore was a star for the Falcons, splashing home three “treys” as part of a 27-point performance to send his squad to the all-Ontarios.
Game 1 on Friday afternoon had a similarly great start, with the Muskies taking St. Ignatius by surprise with an early 11-4 run and led 17-14 after the first quarter.
But the Falcons were able to find their game in the second quarter took their first lead at 31-29 just before halftime.
St. Ignatius then began the third on a 6-0 run to push it 37-29 and prompting a Muskie timeout.
Vanderaa drained a three-pointer shortly after to end the run but Fort High still trailed 52-43 heading to the final period.
The Falcons then pulled away in the fourth, starting the frame on a 9-0 run and outscoring the Muskies 18-5 to seal the victory.
“I think both games we were up in the fourth quarter and the first game we kind of sustained it basically into the third,” Muskie co-coach Greg Ste. Croix said after the Game 2 loss.
"In the first game we didn't start on time in the second half and that really kind of cost us. Their transition offence is really, really good and any time you turnover the ball, they're putting points on the board.
“It's a game of turnovers and transition baskets and they did a much better job of forcing us into turnovers and they capitalized,” he reasoned.
Huziak led the Muskies with 15 points in the Game 1 loss while Vanderaa potted 13 and Wyatt Richards chipped in with 10.
Willmore again led St. Ignatius with 19 points while Lloyd Kargbo had 16 and Sebastien Paradis had 14.
“It's kind of a game of runs, as well, and they made those runs and we didn't,” Ste. Croix remarked.
"At times we could, but not at the same level and it's kind of the difference in the ball game for the first game. We said after the first game, and we tried to reiterate today, that giving up the 70 points to these guys yesterday was not a winning formula.
“Same thing kind of happened today, only we were winning after the first quarter and we turned the ball over in the second quarter and they went on runs and we weren't able to match,” he conceded.
"It's tough right now, I think we'll look back in a couple of days or in a week or month and we'll say that we had a really, really good season. We faced an opponent in NWOSSAA that they've got a terrific program. My hat goes off to them but I'm tremendously proud of our guys.
“They worked really, really hard, they do good work,” Ste. Croix lauded of his players.
“They did a lot of good work, just not enough to beat them [the Falcons] today.”