They knew the target was squarely on their backs and that a talented Kenora Broncos' team would be hungry to try to snatch the crown from them at the “Fish Tank.”
But the top-ranked Muskie junior girls' basketball team displayed the skills that had made them the top dogs of the regular season in a scrappy 39-25 win over Kenora in the NorWOSSA final last Tuesday.
It was the second-straight league title for the Muskies, who had earned the bye to the final by virtue of their first-place finish in the regular season.
The second-place Broncos had advanced after downing the third-place Dryden Eagles 23-19 in the semi-final earlier Tuesday.
“We had to work through a lot of adversity,” conceded Muskie co-coach Gord McCabe.
“It was one of those games where nothing came easy," he noted. ”Even though I felt we were controlling play be a wide margin, shots were not dropping and we were not finishing around the basket with our normal degree of efficiency.
“We also had a huge struggle at the free-throw line and, for a junior team, we have shot free throws pretty well all year.”
McCabe felt Keisha DeBungie, normally one of the team's best free-throw shooters, had a particularly tough day at the line.
“It was just one of those days," he reasoned. ”However, she did not let that frustrate her and that was pretty much the attitude of the entire team.
“I told them after the first quarter that we were playing well and sooner or later things would change,” McCabe added.
"Our defence also held us in like it has all year.
“We made a few mistakes in coverages early and were not challenging shots,” he admitted.
“But after that, I thought we were really solid throughout the entire game and Kenora didn't get many open looks, especially in the second half.”
The Muskies led 18-12 at half time, then upped the margin to 26-14 after the third quarter.
Fort High then outscored Kenora 13-11 in the final quarter to preserve the win.
Becca Jourdain led the way offensively with an 11-point performance while DeBungie added nine points.
Aurora Hutton chipped in with five points, with Justine Linklater netting four.
“Our Grade 10 leadership was the key to [Tuesday's] win," said McCabe. ”I thought Becca Jourdain had her best game of the season in the biggest game of the season.
“She was our leading scorer for the first time and played under control,” he lauded.
“Sometimes Becca lets her excitement get the better of her," McCabe noted. "But [last Tuesday], she played within herself, and Aurora Hutton and Kaylyn Levesque were both very steady and made really good decisions with the ball.”
McCabe also said Joanna Empey had the strength on the boards the Muskies needed, and that Linklater played much better after they had a little “chat.”
“As a Grade 9, I don't think she was ready for the intensity of playoff basketball, and she was getting pushed all over the place and needed to be more aggressive,” he remarked.
“The next time she went on the court, she did exactly what I asked her to do,” McCabe said.
“Tatum Glowasky came out trying to shoot from everywhere, and sometimes her shot selection was not the wisest, but she also listened to instruction and made much better decisions with the basketball,” he added.
"Despite her struggles at the line, Keisha DeBungie still got nine points and Kenora had to pay a lot of attention to her as they know what she is capable of after she scored 25 against them last time we were up there.