Rebels oust Lumberjacks 41-38ML-WR ousted neighboring Cloquet 41-38 in an engagement that went down to the final buzzer last Thursday in Cloquet.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – As basketball teammates together since the third grade, Moose Lake-Willow River guards Shaelyn Halverson and Taylor Miller have suffered plenty of narrow defeats in the closing seconds.
Last week though, the junior duo showed they can win some, too.
Miller drained a pair of free throws, Halverson notched a game-best 20 points and the Rebels’ backcourt tandem combined to score seven of the team’s final eight baskets, as ML-WR ousted neighboring Cloquet 41-38 in an engagement that went down to the final buzzer last Thursday in Cloquet.
“Last year we lost close games all the time,” the 5-foot-3 Miller said. “Today though, we were able handle the pressure and came in and got it done.”
Perhaps that’s a testament to the surging Rebels program. Players said everything from team chemistry, practice habits and time spent in the summer perfecting their skills have led ML-WR (17-8) to one of their best regular season records in the program’s recent history.
“I don’t think we have won 17 games in probably 10 years,” the 5-foot-3 Halverson said last week. “We’re confident and coming together this year. Whether it’s a big school or a small school, any win is big to us.”
In a back-and-forth game that featured 10 ties, nine lead changes and was tied at 17 at halftime, the Rebels took control when Miller hit a field goal with four minutes to go, giving them a 35-34 advantage. Halverson and freshman Adri Jusczak followed with buckets, while Miller hit two free throws put ML-WR up by seven with 50 seconds remaining.
Cloquet kept things tight, as junior Avery Bieri hit a free throw and junior Morgan Jensen sank a baseline three-pointer, but senior Shania Paulson’s desperation shot at the buzzer missed and the Rebels won.
The Lumberjacks (7-17) were led by juniors Reilly Kedrowski and Kenzie Rathe’s 10 points each, while Miller shadowed Halverson with eight for ML-WR.
“We hit some big shots when we needed them,” third-year ML-WR Coach Andrew Miller said. “We did a lot of things well and a lot things not so well today, but we did just enough. We needed this one bad.”
The Rebels welcomed back their leading scorer and rebounder, Adri Jusczak, after she’d sprained her lateral collateral ligament and bruised bones in her right knee Jan. 17.
“It felt good to get out and play basketball again,” said Jusczak, who scored six points in her dozen minutes of play. “I’m still out of it, but I’m easing back into it slowly. We’ll be ready to go for playoffs.”
Despite losing a one-point nail-biter to Pine City Saturday, Andrew Miller said his Rebels are likely to receive the No. 3 or 4 seed and an opening-round home game in the upcoming Section 7AA tournament.
“Every little thing helps, but we did things as a team,” he said, noting their objective was to advance to the quarterfinal round at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “We’re just going to go as far as we can.”
“I think if we continue to have good practices and improve our team chemistry, we can go far,” Halverson said. “We just have to keep our cool.”
Like against the Lumberjacks.
Cloquet Coach Jeff Ojanen predicted his team to be a probable lower seed in the Section 7AAA field. The Lumberjacks have now lost eight of their last nine games, including a 60-23 loss to Duluth East on Tuesday.
“It really hurts losing this one because it’s one we felt we should have won,” Ojanen said about the Moose Lake-Willow River game, in which the ’Jacks shot 14-for-60. “I give Moose Lake credit, but we just couldn’t get the shots to fall. It’s something we’ve struggled with all year. We just have to put the ball in the basket.”
Amongst their injuries, losses and struggles, Ojanen remains optimistic.
“The wins haven’t been there lately, but we’re trying to stay positive,” he said. “Tonight was a killer, but we’ll continue to work hard and fix our mistakes.
“If seven- and eight-seeds always lost in the first round, they would never play,” Ojanen continued about the postseason. “That’s why they play the games.”