Fond du Lac Ojibwe top South Ridge, Cook County, head to section semifinalsDespite their sixth seed, the underrated Ogichidaa upset No. 3 South Ridge 70-63 in last Thursday’s second round and toppled No. 2 Cook County 61-53 Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals in Hibbing.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Earl Otis is honest when he says he enjoys watching his fast-paced Fond du Lac Ojibwe boys basketball team run their offense up and down the court.
But the first-year Ogichidaa coach would be the first to say their recent man-to-man defense has been just as entertaining these days.
Having switched from their previous zone scheme earlier this season, FDL (14-13) has surged through the playoffs and, again, is among the finest squads remaining in this week’s Section 7A playoffs.
“It’s all been about our defense, it’s the best we have played all year,” said Otis, whose team is allowing 15 fewer points per playoff contest than during the regular season. “Even Chisholm Coach Bob McDonald came up to me Saturday after our game and said we’re playing well.”
It’s true. Despite their sixth seed, the underrated Ogichidaa upset No. 3 South Ridge 70-63 in last Thursday’s second round and toppled No. 2 Cook County 61-53 Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals in Hibbing.
Otis said the fact that they were ignored by many has been an inspiration.
“The boys are really motivated by their underdog role,” he said. “They’re remaining confident and taking things one game at a time. They aren’t looking ahead, but I know they want to get to state. They really want to get there.”
To do so, the in-your-face freestyle offense and well-tailored defense of the Ogichidaa will have to be at its best Wednesday.
As the Pine Journal went to press Wednesday evening, FDL faced top-seeded North Woods in the semifinals at Hibbing Memorial Arena. A win Wednesday would advance them to Friday’s championship for the first time in the small tribal school’s history. The title tilt would be at 7 p.m. in Hibbing against either Mesabi East or section favorite, Lakeview Christian Academy, which boasts scoring sensation Anders Broman.
FDL sports its own high-volume threat as well: forward Kello Brown.
Brown scored 36 against the Panthers last week and 20 more despite foul trouble against the Vikings Saturday. Otis said his players enjoy following the electrifying senior’s lead, as well as his 30-point, 12-rebound a night averages.
“We were right with them until the end, but then Kello just took over,” said South Ridge Coach Carl Grussendorf. “I don’t think there is a team left with a tall, quick, athletic kid like that. I think Fond du Lac has a chance.”
Meanwhile, South Ridge (12-11) closed its first-ever season a week ago. Grussendorf said there were both ups and downs, but overall, it was
“We were young and lacked consistency this year, but the kids worked hard and kept on battling,” he said. “And not many people can say they were a part of something that started from scratch. We have a new school, new colors, new uniforms and a new gym. It was definitely a blast. I loved every minute of it.”
Dan Wood, who attended Cotton, agreed about the new Culver-based school.
“It’s pretty cool there, everything is pretty much state-of-the-art,” said the senior forward for the Panthers. “We lost our last five games of the season, so yeah, that’s been tough, but to be a part of all of this has been a neat experience.”
FDL may not have a new school, but Wood sure likes their basketball team.
“They’re very athletic and are just a fast, quick team,” he said. “Right now, anyone can win the section. I think anybody can beat anybody.”
Last Thursday, Wood finished with 15 points while Drew Janke recorded 17.
“At the beginning of the season, I expected us to go around .500, so to finish 12-11, I can’t complain,” Grussendorf said. “And our future looks very bright.”
In the present day, the Ogichidaa remain alive.
“We can score with anybody, but right now, our defense is what has been winning us games,” Otis said. “I think the boys are really buying into that. Everything has just been really exciting.
“And stressful,” said Otis, laughing.
It might just be the Ogichidaa’s upset-minded mentality that brings them further than ever.
“Every day we’re getting a little better and a little better,” Otis continued. “It’s a Cinderella story, but these boys are confident. And not satisfied.”
Just like their ever-improving defense.
The Fond du Lac Ojibwe lost 75-71 to North Woods in a heartbreaking,
gut-wrenching double-overtime Section 7A semifinal game Wednesday night
at the Hibbing Memorial Arena. The Ogichidaa are out of the playoffs and North Woods will play on Friday in Hibbing for the section championship against the winner of Lakeview Christian Academy vs. Mesabi East.