BARAGA - After getting smoked in Ontonagon 50-24 back in January, the Baraga girls basketball team came out energetic and focused Thursday night to hand Ontonagon a 48-38 defeat and prevent the Gladiators from claiming the Copper Country Conference title on the Vikings' home floor.
It was an inspired performance, and coach Mariah Dunham thinks she knows why.
With the color pink infiltrating everywhere from head bands to shoe laces - or in Dunham's case, suspenders - Baraga hosted a "Pink Out" Breast Cancer Awareness game dedicated to Hedy Capul, the school nurse of 29 years.
Baraga senior Shannon Fish drives for a layup against Ontonagon forward Bobbi Ross Monday. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"Games like this can either inspire you or distract you, and I think for our girls it really inspired them," Dunham said. "It is an awesome cause and all the proceeds are going to Mrs. Capul, and I think she will be beside herself with everything that happened here. I couldn't be more happy.
"What a '180' from last time. We got killed the last time we played them."
The intensity level was most evident in the way the Vikings attacked the offensive glass.
Ontonagon 14 6 7 11 - 38
Baraga 12 14 11 11 - 48
Ontonagon - Chloe Ashley 2, Brooke Turin 5, Abby Domitrovich 2, Brilynn Pollard 9, Bobbi Ross 6, Chelsea Truscott 12, Rebecca Karttunen 2; FTs: 1-1; Fouls: 17; Three-point field goals: Pollard 1, Truscott 1.
Baraga - Taryn Nurmela 4, Brittany Nieskes 11, Jenna Heikkinen 10, Rebecca Larson 5, Shannon Fish 5, Gabby Mayo 4, Katie Schjoth 9; FTs: 4-11; Fouls: 9; Three-point field goals: Nieskes 1, Heikkinen 2, Larson 1.
Baraga pulled down 15 offensive rebounds for the game and the plethora of second-chance opportunities finally wore Ontonagon down as the Gladiators fell behind 37-27 in the third quarter.
"It seemed like they were more intense than we were," Ontonagon coach Dick Franti said. "They sure seemed to play at an intensity level that we weren't quite matching. Especially rebounding-wise, they just destroyed us on the boards."
Baraga seniors Rebecca Larson and Brittany Nieskes led the way with four offensive boards each and Larson collected nine rebounds for the game.
The offensive glass keyed a third-quarter run with Larson's putback and a Jenna Heikkinen three-pointer helping push the lead to double digits.
"Not only did we crash the boards, but we crashed the boards with a purpose," Dunham said. "It wasn't just going in there for the sake of it. Those girls wanted that ball tonight, and that is an attitude. You don't have to be skilled to go and get the ball, that is just an attitude.
"I can't say enough about the play of our seniors," Dunham added. "They really led the way tonight. I think they really wanted this one."
Seven players scored four or more points for the Vikings as a balanced attack intent on getting the ball to the hoop kept unlocking Ontonagon's pressure defense.
"Our guards were awesome, they really handled Ontonagon's pressure," Dunham said.
With their first loss in CCC play, Ontonagon will have to wait until a home make-up game Saturday against Lake Linden-Hubbell for a chance to seal a conference title.
Baraga is gearing itself up for a playoff run with a final game against Calumet.
"The districts are going to be so wild, it is going to be like March Madness except in February it is going to be February Frenzy," Dunham said.