CHASSELL - Ontonagon senior Aaron Kaikko did everything he could to will the four-win Gladiators to a Class D district-opening upset over 11-win Jeffers, but the Jets overcame a cold shooting night just in time.
Kaikko scored 24 points, including a nearly half-court triple just before halftime, but Jeffers forced 24 turnovers in the game to get to overtime with the score at 32-32. Alex and Christopher Outinen drilled back-to-back OT threes to pull away for a 45-36 win.
"I'm glad we escaped," Jeffers coach Duane Snell said. "Anything can happen in districts. One player can carry you through, and (Kaikko) almost did."
Jeffers senior Troy Kinnunen launches a left-corner three with a second left in regulation, but the shot missed and the Jets went to overtime against Ontonagon, when they eventually beat the Gladiators 45-36 in the Class D district quarterfinal in Chassell. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Ontonagon senior Aaron Kaikko elevates for a turn-around jumper against Jeffers’ Daniel Salo (44) and Myles Rajala. Kaikko scored 24 points in the final game of his high school basketball career, as Jeffers won 45-36 in overtime. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Jeffers' signature senior Troy Kinnunen, on the other hand, was held to just 11 points - his fourth straight game with 12 points or fewer after starting the season with 15 straight games of at least 13.
Kinnunen did drill all four free throws in back-to-back overtime one-and-ones to extend the lead from 39-36 to 43-36; and in the first quarter his only three of the game reset his own school record with 64 triples in a season.
Sophomore Zachary Nicholas carried the Jets through their ice-cold first half, scoring three of the four field goals, and keeping them within 18-12 at the break.
Ontonagon 8 10 5 9 4 - 36
Jeffers 11 1 15 5 13 - 45
Ontonagon - Aaron Kaikko 24, Kyle Karttunen 7, Luke Pattison 2, David Pollard 2, Seth Rowles 1; FT: 5-9; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: Pollard; 3-point field goals: Kaikko 2, Karttunen 1.
Jeffers Zachary Nicholas 16, Alex Outinen 14, Troy Kinnunen 11, Christopher Outinen 4; FT 9-14; Fouls: 15; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Nicholas 4, A. Outinen 2, Kinnunen 1, C. Outinen 1.
Ontonagon put together a 10-1 second quarter, with eight of those points coming from Kaikko, including a shot from near half-court - even though there were still three seconds left on the clock.
"His whole attitude today was 'I'm not going out of here losing this game,'" Ontonagon coach Tim Nelson said. "He did everything in his power to help us win, and unfortunately we just couldn't get it done."
Kyle Karttunen scored two of his seven points to kick off the second half, but Jeffers completely erased the 20-12 lead in just 53 seconds with a pair of Nicholas threes and an Alex Outinen lay-up. Nicholas and Outinen each added another lay-up to cap off a 12-0 run, but Kaikko made it a 24-23 game with one of his two threes.
The Jets opened up a 30-23 fourth-quarter lead, but Kaikko grabbed an offensive rebound, converted the lay-up while being fouled and hit the free throw on one possession; and hit both ends of a one-and-one a minute later.
The game was tied 32-32 for the last 3:40, though Ontonagon had a pair of one-and-ones, missing the front end of both, and Jeffers took a pair of 60-second timeouts to try and set up the final shot.
Kinnunen's left-corner attempt with a second left clanked off the back iron.
"The chances were there, we just didn't capitalize," Nelson said.
"Like I told the boys, whether you lose in the first game of the districts or the final, it doesn't hurt any less. I feel bad for Aaron and Seth (Rowles) because this is it for them, but I really do think they left it out on the floor and gave it everything they had."
Nelson felt with his short bench that his team ran out of gas at the end of regulation, and it showed in the four-minute OT.
Kaikko hit a right-wing three with 3:15 left and Rowles' only point on a free throw made it a two-possession Gladiator lead, but the Outinen brothers hit a pair of threes 30 seconds apart to take a 38-36 lead with 1:52 left.
Ontonagon couldn't make another shot, and Jeffers hit seven of eight free throws to ice what was a much closer game than the nine-point final differential indicates.
"It wasn't the sweetest of words I had to say at halftime, but they rose to the occasion," Snell said. " If we want to have any chance at all against Lake Linden, we have to have Alex and Troy going."
Jeffers and Lake Linden-Hubbell will play at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the second district semifinal game in Chassell, following Baraga vs. Chassell at 6.