It was like catching up to someone on the highway, only to have them find an extra gear and leave you in their rearview mirror.
The Muskie senior boys’ basketball team looked, at times, the equal of the Hammarskjold Vikings of Thunder Bay—their opponent in the final and ultimately deciding game of the La Place Rendez-Vous tournament here last weekend.
But a 19-4 second-quarter spurt by the Vikings, followed by another burst late in the third, kept the black-and-gold at bay as Hammarskjold capped their undefeated run to the tourney title with a 59-43 victory Saturday afternoon.
“They were hitting their three-pointers from outside and that, combined with our mistakes on offence, was too much to overcome,” said Muskies co-coach Paul Noonan, whose squad finished second in the event with a 2-1 mark.
“But we matched them point for point in the second half. The guys played their hearts out, and showed a lot of intensity and desire,” Noonan added.
The Vikings led 13-12 at the end of the first quarter before taking over in the second with a combination of dominant rebounding and a non-stop array of Muskie turnovers that left the black-and-gold scoreless until 1:58 left in the half.
Kevin Gemmell, who was the Muskies’ offensive sparkplug the entire tournament, was held to no field goals and only four points in the half.
“There were too many bad passes,” Muskie Cullan McGinnis, who had 12 points in the contest, said about the nightmarish second stanza.
“No one was looking at the ball, nobody was moving, and no one was setting screens to get people open.
“There was too much confusion on defence,” he added. “People either weren’t covering their guys, or were helping out other guys with their man and leaving other guys open.”
But instead of folding their tents, the Muskies came out looking like a brand new team in the third quarter, putting together a 15-6 run that drew them within seven points at 38-31 and forcing a Vikings’ timeout.
Hammarskjold regrouped in the huddle and Parry Sohi proceeded to thrust a dagger into the Muskies’ heart with a three-pointer that put the lead back to double digits.
The Vikings later stretched the advantage to 14, only to watch the black-and-gold cut it to eight. Then Sohi, who led all scorers in the game with 18 points, turned into a one-man wrecking crew late in the third.
He pickpocketed McGinnis and Gemmell on consecutive possessions, cruising in for an uncontested lay-up on the first one and feeding Jared McKee for another lay-up on the second to make it 47-35 after three.
After building their cushion mostly from the outside, the Vikings spent the fourth quarter pounding the ball inside against a Muskies’ defence that had no answers, although Noonan was encouraged by his team’s progress throughout the contest.
“Because they were bigger, when we passed the ball inside early in the game, it was getting swatted out and making our guys frustrated,” he noted. “But as we started driving more and getting into the key later on, it opened things up.
“I think we can lessen the gap between us and them as the season goes on,” Noonan continued. “They got hot, but anyone can get hot. We look forward to playing them again.”
One reason for confidence in the future was the play of the guard tandem of Gemmell, who led the squad in scoring in all three games, including 17 against the Vikings, and Vern Pham, who bounced back from an ankle injury suffered midway through the Muskies’ opening game.
“Kevin was everywhere,” marvelled Noonan. “His shooting, decision-making, and rebounding were excellent.
“Vern played great, too. He had to be our top rebounder today.”
The Muskies, who were badly outplayed in their NorWOSSA season-opener against the Kenora Broncos here last Thursday afternoon, displayed some quick recovery instincts with a 55-48 win against the Churchill Bulldogs of Winnipeg in their tourney-opener Friday afternoon.
The game was up for grabs with five minutes to play, with the black-and-gold holding a slim 45-43 margin. But it was the Muskies who applied the stranglehold, making the shots when they had to while shutting down Churchill’s attack.
Gemmell torched the Bulldogs for 25 points, including 17 in the second half alone, while McGinnis chipped in 12. Ryan Hughes was the top gunner for the Bulldogs with 17.
Then it was a sleepy Saturday morning start for both the Muskies and the Churchill Trojans (Thunder Bay), with neither team hitting the twine until Fort High’s Keith McKay connected with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
That woke the Trojans up in a hurry, who went on a 9-0 run to lead by seven.
But the Muskies dug in for the second quarter and battled back to tie the game 19-19 at halftime.
In the third quarter, a high-intensity defensive effort by the Muskies forced a myriad of Trojan turnovers, and had Fort High up 34-28 by the end of the frame.
Then in the fourth, the Trojans missed several wide-open lay-ups to kill their chances of getting back in the game, while Gemmell continued to hit from inside and out in racking up a game-high 20 points.
Teammate Scott Galusha added six.
Shawn Hordy, who was shut out in the second half, and Corey Brown led the Trojans with eight points each.
The Trojans, Bulldogs, Kenora Broncos, and Dryden Eagles all tied for third in the tournament with 1-2 records.