It was a banner day for the Muskie basketball teams on Monday at Fort High.
Both the senior and junior boys' teams came away with big-time performances to snag the championship trophies in their respective finals.
The top-ranked senior squad, who earned a bye to the final by virtue of finishing the regular season in first place with a 9-0 record, used a well-balanced attack to pull out a 61-54 win over the second-place Sioux Lookout Warriors in the championship game on Monday evening.
It was the second straight league title for the Muskies, who also booked a return trip to the NWOSSAA championship that will be held here this Friday and Saturday.
“I'm always proud of the guys, they work really, really hard at every single practice and every single game,” said Muskie co-coach Greg Ste. Croix, after the championship win on home court on Monday.
"I'm always tremendously proud of them. The Warriors played a really good game today and there were times when we went on runs and they went on runs and they made it really difficult for us.
“It had to be a great game to watch as a fan, it was pretty stressful as a coach,” he admitted.
The Muskies turned a slim 19-13 lead in Monday's championship game against the Warriors into a 36-17 cushion by halftime.
But the Warriors made some shots in the third and a last-second jumper made it a 47-40 game heading into the fourth.
That was no matter for the Muskies, who battled it out in the final period and got a pair of free throw makes from Sean Huziak to salt the game away late.
“We score by committee and today Mike [Vanderaa] hit some big shots, Wyatt [Richards] has played well for us all season, Sean [Huziak] has played well for us all season,” Ste. Croix lauded.
"Vanderaa made a number of layups in the second half that really helped us for sure but I mean everyone kind of scored the ball for us.
“When we play our game, we can really do some good things,” he remarked.
“Sioux Lookout made it really tough on us tonight so, hey, hats off to them.”
The Muskies now will face the St. Ignatius Falcons in the best-of-three NWOSSAA championship on Friday and Saturday at Fort High.
Ste. Croix knows his squad will face a stiff task against a formidable Thunder Bay opponent with a berth to OFSAA on the line.
“We're gonna have to play really, really well,” he stressed.
"We're gonna have to minimize opportunities on their behalf and we'll just see what happens.
“They're a very good team," he lauded of the Falcons. "We're in for a real battle here but that's why you play the games. Anything can happen, so who knows.”
As for the Muskie juniors, they also were able to taste NorWOSSA glory with a scrappy 47-45 win over the top-ranked Eagles in the championship game on Monday afternoon.
Fort High finished the regular season in second place with a 7-2 record, with both losses coming to the Eagles, who also finished 7-2 but earned the first-place bye to the final because of those head-to-head wins.
The taste of revenge was something sweet for the hosts on Monday.
“It was great. We knew the first time that we played Dryden this year that it would be a good battle all season and the final didn't disappoint,” Muskie coach Corey Smith said of the championship game.
“We finished the season undefeated at home! The kids played amazing. They did everything that we worked on all season and it was nice to see their hard work pay off.”
The Muskies led the Eagles 29-24 at halftime, thanks in large part to Brennan Jourdain's long-distance three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Eagles did manage to outscore the Muskies 21-18 in the second half, but it wasn't enough to complete the comeback against the hosts.
“They stuck to the game plan and everyone chipped in for the win,” Smith said of his players.
“Even though some players didn't see many minutes, the minutes that they did play changed the outlook of the whole game.”
The Muskies had earned their berth to Monday's final with a hard-fought 46-39 win over the third-ranked Kenora Broncos in the semifinals that morning.
Smith was also happy with the Muskies' efforts to secure the crucial win.
“[It was] another great game,” he recalled.
"They kept it close and kept fighting until the end. We played very well offensively and did what we needed to do to get the 'W'.
“The kids have played so unselfishly all year and we have had a different high scorer in almost every game,” Smith lauded.
“Our team is so deep that it doesn't matter who is on the floor, we have a chance to win.”
This is the end of the road this season for the Muskies as there is no NWOSSAA at the junior level.