PAINESDALE - With her team trailing Ontonagon by nine points early in the second quarter of Wednesday's Class D district seminfinal, Baraga High girls' basketball coach Mariah Dunham was searching desperately for a spark.
She found one in sophomore forward Gabrielle Mayo.
"We weren't very focused at that point," Dunham said after her team's 47-45 victory. "But Gabby came in there and we just started to play harder.
Baraga’s Jenna Heikkinen pulls down a rebound during Wednesday’s Class D?district semifinal against Ontonagon at Jeffers High School in Painesdale. The Lady Vikings won 47-45. (Paul Peterson photo)
"I told her (Mayo) to go in there and give 110 percent ... she was amazing ... she made the difference."
The 5-foot-8 Mayo collected three buckets and a handful of rebounds in the period as BHS went from a 20-11 deficit to 22-20 halftime lead.
Ontonagon coach Dick Franti said Baraga's 37-23 edge on the boards was the major difference in the battle of Copper Country Conference rivals.
Ontonagon 13 7 14 11 - 45
Baraga 6 16 14 11 - 47
Ontonagon - Brooke Turin 13, Lori Wardynski 3, Molly Domitrovich 4, Bobbi Ross 10, Brilynn Pollard 4, Chelsea Truscott 11. FT:4-9; Rebounds: 23 (Ross 6); Fouls: 16; Fouled out: Pollard; 3-point FG: 3-point FG: Turin 3, Truscott 2.
Baraga - Jenna Heikkinen 9, Brittany Nieskes 17, Rebecca Larson 4, Shannon Fish 8, Gabrielle Mayo 7, Katie Schjoth 2; FT: 13-18; Rebounds: 37 (Mayo and Larson 10); Fouls: 9; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: Heikkinen 1, Larson 1.
"They (Vikings) just hammered us on the boards, just like they did the last time we played them," Franti commented. "It was really that simple."
But the Purple and Gold had to fend off the Gladiators in the final two minutes to claim a spot opposite Lake Linden-Hubbell in Friday's championship game.
Clinging to a 43-41 lead, the Vikes saw the Glads have two shots tantalizingly circle the rim and roll out.
"Bobbi Ross had both of those shots all but go in and they didn't drop," Franti said. "If one of them does, we tie the game and have the momentum. But that's the game of basketball, sometimes things go against you."
Baraga senior Katie Schjoth dropped in two critical free throws with 1:15 left for a 45-42 margin and Jenna Heikkinen and Rebecca Larson added single free tosses down the stretch for a 47-42 spread.
That made a three-point basket by Chelsea Truscott of OAHS in the final five seconds just window dressing.
The Gladiators appeared in good shape in the first half behind Brooke Turin's outstanding play. She laced 11 of her team's 13 points as the Maroon and White grabbed a 13-6 lead after one frame.
Hoops by Ross and Molly Domitrovich led to the aforementioned 20-11 reading.
Triples by Heikkinen and Larson in the stanza abetted Mayo's inside work.
Senior guard Brittany Nieskes took over in the third quarter, popping in 10 points as Baraga seized a 31-24 lead at one point before the Glads whittled it to 36-34 by quarter's end.
That set the stage for the final hectic quarter - one that saw Baraga's upperclassmen step up.
"Our seniors played very well at the end," Dunham stated. "I had to get Rebecca (Larson) back in, although she had four fouls. She gave us some key rebounds."
Nieskes had an outstanding game for the 11-11 winners with a game-best 17 points, drawing Franti's praise.
"She (Nieskes) played just an amazing game," the OAHS skipper said. "She scored inside on us, she just played very well."
Heikkinen added nine points and four assists, while Shannon Fish put in eight more. Mayo was solid with seven points and a game-high 10 rebounds - a total matched by Larson.
Turin led the 13-8 losers with 13 points and four steals. Truscott netted 11 more markers and Ross tossed in 10.
As far meeting Lake Linden-Hubbell for all the marbles, Dunham feels her team has to use its edge in size.
"Our defense and rebounding will have to be the key," she said. "I don't think they match up very well with our inside presence. It's going to be a physical, intense game."
The two teams split in the regular season.