Bombers rally past rival Rebels
DULUTH—With the snow banks still several feet high, it’s fitting that the Barnum softball team’s shortstop, Cheyanne Johnson, didn’t quite want her basketball season to stop.
Johnson took over the game’s waning minutes, as the Bombers’ junior guard guided Barnum back from a late 11-point second-half deficit to eliminate Moose Lake-Willow River 63-61 in a Section 7AA girls basketball quarterfinal contest Saturday afternoon at Duluth Denfeld High School.
“I just didn’t want our season to end,” said Johnson, who scored 17 of her career-high 27 points in the game’s last eight minutes. “That’s what you’ve got to do when you’re behind.”
The second-seeded Bombers (18-8) looked beaten when they fell behind 47-36 with 8:01 to go, until the 5-foot-5 Johnson went on to later swish a right-wing 3-pointer, a pair of baskets — including a left-baseline drive to tie it at 53-53 — and 10 free throws down the stretch to stun the third-seeded Rebels.
“She stepped it up,” said Barnum Coach Katie Moench. “She hit some big shots, but what impressed me was how strong she stayed, both physically and mentally.”
Although leading 27-22 at halftime, physical foul trouble was obvious for Barnum. As the rival Rebels’ (19-8) offense rolled along, Barnum eighth-grader Emily Miletich — who scored 13 points — fouled out with 8:01 remaining, forcing Moench to take a timeout and address the season on the line.
“She told us to keep playing hard,” Johnson recalled.
Barnum then played for 27 of the game’s final 41 points, as the Bombers beat ML-WR for a third time this year and eliminated their Polar League neighbors from the postseason.
“There was definitely some tears shed,” said Rebels junior Adri Jusczak, whose 26 points paced a well-balanced team hurt by nagging injuries. “We were playing not to lose.”
“We got a little tired with just our seven girls,” said an emotional ML-WR Coach Joe Adamczak, giving hugs to his players in the gym. “But you can’t ask for our girls to play any harder. They never stopped fighting. It was a heck of a game. You definitely got your eight dollars’ worth for today.”
Especially if you showed up for the final eight minutes to watch Johnson, who plays with her Bombers in tonight’s — Thursday, March 13 — 5:45 p.m. semifinal with top-seed International Falls (21-7) at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth.
“I was a little nervous,” admitted Barnum senior teammate Daron Mainville about her career potentially ending during Saturday. “They were on the run, but we figured out what worked — and that was Chey driving. She was on.”
And as for softball season with Moench (who will also coach Johnson at shortstop)?
“Not yet,” Johnson said with a smile.
Esko (23-5) was all smiles Saturday, as the co-No. 1 seed survived a 50-35 scare from upset-minded Aitkin at Denfeld in the Section 7AA quarterfinals.
The Eskomos trailed 21-9 during the first session and 21-15 by halftime before bolting on their run that pushed them to tonight’s — Thursday, March 13 — semifinal at 7:30 p.m. with second-seed Mesabi East (18-9) at Romano Gymnasium.
“Our girls just have a way of running well,” Esko Coach Scott Antonutti said of his team, which could face Barnum in Saturday’s final at 7 p.m. “I guess it’s just a matter of time before it catches up with people.”
In Section 7A, people don’t believe No. 4 state-ranked Mountain Iron-Buhl (26-2) will be dethroned, but with it now being the middle of March, don’t tell that to Jeff Gronner.
Gronner has his Cromwell-Wright (16-9) crew playing as well as any, returning again to a loaded semifinal round where the Cardinals face Mountain Iron-Buhl, and McGregor takes on North Woods. Despite the Cardinals dropping their past three affairs with the Rangers by more than 40 points each, Gronner was optimistic prior to Wednesday’s semifinal at Romano Gymnasium when this edition of the Pine Journal went to press. A potential championship would be at Friday at 7 p.m., also at Romano.
“No one expects us to win,” said Gronner. “The better start that we have, the more pressure that will build on them.”