Zoned out: Jeffers stymies Ontonagon with 2-3 zone to advance to semis
LAKE LINDEN — The Jeffers Jets came into Monday’s district opener with a definitive defensive strategy. They would sag hard in their 2-3 zone, with their guards as low as the elbows, daring the Ontonagon Gladiators to make perimeter shots to beat them.
Try as they might, the Gladiators could never consistently find the bottom of the net to pull the upset.
Jeffers limited Ontonagon to 10 of 62 shooting (16 percent) to earn a 50-29 win in the Class D District 128 opener in Lake Linden. The Jets (15-6) will now face the Chassell Panthers (15-5) at 5:30 p.m. in a semifinal matchup in Lake Linden.
Senior Julia Nordstrom led the winners with 15 points, and senior Alexa Clouthier added 10 points and nine rebounds. Jeffers junior Ivy Klemett recorded game-highs of 17 rebounds and six assists.
“I thought defensively, we were very, very, very strong,” Jeffers head coach Joe Romano said. “Our top girls were bouncing out and we had weak-side help from the low post.”
Jeffers was willing to surrender decent looks from 3 and the Gladiators obliged — but Ontonagon could never make them pay. The Gladiators shot just 6 of 37 from 3 for the game as the Jets continued to pack in their 2-3 zone.
“Against that zone, we don’t have a strong inside game so you have to hit some to loosen it up a little bit, and we didn’t hit them,” Ontonagon head coach Dick Franti said. “That’s been our bugaboo all year; we usually shoot better than that but offensively, that’s been our problem.
“Give Jeffers all the credit in the world.”
Right from the start, Ontonagon (9-12) was out of sorts. The Gladiators missed 17 of 18 shots in the first quarter with the only make being a 3 from the right wing by sophomore Isabelle Lutz. Jeffers was able to jump out to a 15-3 lead as Franti implored his team to relax.
“We were nervous for whatever reason and that increased the inability to put the ball in the hole,” Franti said. “Then we started to get really frustrated because we weren’t hitting a shot.”
Ontonagon was not alone in getting off to a slow start. Jeffers struggled out of the gates and didn’t score until Nordstrom converted a layup with 5 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first quarter. But that basket seemed to get her going, allowing her to ignite Jeffers’ offense by scoring 12 of her 15 in the opening quarter, where she shot 5 of 7 (2 of 3 from 3).
“That’s Julia’s role, she always gets us going and she has help from her sidekick, Clouthier,” Romano said.
Playing a 2-3 zone typically leaves a defense vulnerable to offensive boards. But Klemett, manning one of the lower outside positions of the zone, was able to routinely track down the abundance of misses. She had 11 rebounds at halftime before finishing with 17.
“Ivy is just a rock. You’re not moving her, Leah Pennala or Clouthier,” Romano said of his interior defenders. “Chassell will be taller than us, but I think our kids are stronger — and they won’t back down. It’s going to be a battle.”
The closest Ontonagon got was when sophomore Fahren Kolpack scored a layup off a Jeffers turnover to trim the Jets’ lead to 28-17 midway through the third. However, from there, it was all Jeffers and the Jets responded with a quick 6-0 run with a layup from junior Cierra Stevens, a 3-point play from Pennala and a free throw from Clouthier for a 34-17 advantage.
“I thought all our kids played very, very well,” Romano said. “Dana Kinnunen (eight points) and Ashley Lehto (six points) stood out tonight, and we need those girls coming off the bench.”
Jeffers finished 20 of 56 from the field (36 percent) and held a 50-42 rebounding advantage.
The Baraga Vikings play the Dollar Bay Blue Bolts in the second game of Wednesday’s district semifinal doubleheader.
Ontonagon 3 10 12 4 — 29
Jeffers 15 13 13 9 — 50
Ontonagon — Weisinger 3, S. Lutz 2, Kolpack 3, Wardynski 4, Saari 3, I. Lutz 9, Labyak 5. F: 17; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 3-7; 3-point field goals: Lutz 3, Labyak, Saari, Weisinger.
Jeffers — Klemett 2, Lehto 6, Stevens 6, Nordstrom 15, Kinnunen 8, Clouthier 10, Pennala 3. F: 11; Fouled out: 11; Free throws: 6-10; 3-point field goals: Nordstrom 2, Asiala, Clouthier.