L'ANSE - The Baraga and L'Anse girls basketball contest provided everything a good rivalry needs Thursday night. The play was hard-nosed - even occasionally chippy - an ample crowd was excited and the scoring margin was within striking distance for the Lady Vikings through the fourth quarter.
In the end though, L'Anse point guard Madi Swanson (21 points) proved too difficult to keep out of the lane and Baraga couldn't come up with one final run to close the scoring gap as the Hornets walked away with a season sweep of their Keweenaw Bay rivals, 49-43.
"They are a lot improved since the first time we played them," L'Anse coach Scott Lloyd said of his team's 66-49 win back in mid-December. "I'm glad that we don't have to play them again this season because that was a dogfight. I would have been happy to win by one, as long as we won."
L’Anse’s Madi Swanson cuts through a trio of Baraga defenders including Shannon Fish (20) and Brittany Nieskes, right, during Thursday’s game at L’Anse. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"It was just one of those nights where you wish the ball would bounce our way a couple more times or we would make a couple more open shots," Baraga coach Mariah Dunham added.
L'Anse led 22-20 at halftime but was able to separate some in the third quarter thanks to the aggressive forays to the hoop by Swanson.
The junior point guard collected nine of her 21 points coming out of the break as she was able to find space to shoot in the lane time and time again.
After Swanson exploded for a season-high 32 points at Baraga the first time around, the Vikings were focused on shifting help defense to try and stifle Swanson's penetration but the slender point guard was able to split double teams with a full head of steam.
"She makes herself about 4-foot-2 instead of 5-foot-2 to get to the hoop and then when she finishes she is so strong," Lloyd said. "She gets doubled but she can still power through contact and that makes her tough to defend."
Still, even with Swanson darting around on offense Baraga kept swinging back for much of the contest.
Senior Shannon Fish excelled on both ends of the court, leading the Vikings with 11 points - while utilizing an especially effective pump fake to earn eight free throws - and held L'Anse shooter Kelsey Ross to four points on defense.
"Shannon played an amazing game, she played her heart out," Dunham said.
Even with Ross limited, L'Anse was buoyed defensively with the return of Valerie Rajala from injury.
According to Lloyd, the junior forward had been averaging nearly 15 rebounds per contest before she was hurt and the team just isn't complete without her cleaning up the glass.
Rajala played starter's minutes Thursday while finishing with 11 points.
"She basically equals the team output for rebounds," Lloyd said. "When she is not on the floor, how do you make up 13 points and 15 rebounds per game? I was really impressed how she played as long as she did and as hard as she did. She isn't in complete game shape yet, but that was a great effort."
Dunham was pleased with the progress her girls showed from the last outing against L'Anse.
"Any time you can hold L'Anse under 50 points, you are playing pretty well defensively," Dunham said. "Rajala, Kelsey (Ross) and Madi (Swanson) are pretty tough to contain."