Chassell beats BR-H in OT thriller to win program’s first regional title

The Chassell Panthers celebrate with the Class D Region 32 trophy after defeating the Bark River-Harris Broncos 58-55 in overtime Thursday in Kingsford. Next, Chassell will face Gaylord St. Mary in a quarterfinal on Tuesday in Sault Ste. Marie. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

KINGSFORD — It was always going to be hard; making history always is. But this seemed insurmountable. The Chassell Panthers committed 17 first-half turnovers and trailed a disruptive Bark River-Harris squad by 14 at the break while looking all out of sorts for the first time this season. It appeared Chassell’s first girls regional title would have to wait at least another year.

But then the real Chassell showed up for the second half. The one that blew out teams by over 30 points during the regular season, backed by a stifling defense, steady backcourt and a tall, athletic frontcourt. 

First, the Panthers chipped away at that deficit by getting stop after stop, then they made all the big-time shots in the fourth quarter and into overtime to prove no moment was too large for them. 

When the final buzzer sounded on Chassell’s 58-55 overtime win Thursday in Kingsford, even the stoic and calm Milly Allen busted out in celebration, arms spread wide and tears of joy flowing from her eyes. 

Get that banner ready, Chassell. For the first time, you’re regional champs. 

The Chassell Panthers celebrate with the Class D Region 32 trophy after defeating the Bark River-Harris Broncos 58-55 in overtime Thursday in Kingsford. Next, Chassell will face Gaylord St. Mary in a quarterfinal on Tuesday in Sault Ste. Marie. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

“I think all my emotions just came out tonight,” said Allen who scored 15 of her team-high 19 points in the second half and overtime. “It’s so unbelievable. We worked so hard for this, and we definitely deserve it.”

Chassell has always had a rich basketball history on the boys side, thanks to the three state titles by the Ed Helakoski-coached teams in 1956-58. And now the girls have their own legacy to look back on with satisfaction as Brandi Hainault’s vision finally came to fruition, six years after taking over a program that went 2-19 the season prior to her arrival.

“It’s been a goal of mine and for the girls to change the culture and change the program and have some pride back in our school for girls basketball,” Hainault said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted, and these girls did it.”

With both teams featuring athletic guards with the ability to create havoc with their pressure, the game was as frantic as it was nerve-racking for each squad. Each possession had the same chance of resulting in a clutch basket or another head-scratching turnover. The unpredictability kept both fanbases on the edge as they rode a rollercoaster of emotion.

“It was unfortunate that someone had to lose,” Bark River-Harris coach Josh Eagle said. “That’s what happens when great teams give every ounce of energy that they had.

Chassell’s Milly Allen goes up for a layup as Bark River-Harris’ Jaelin Lockwood defends during a Class D Region 32 final Thursday in Kingsford. Chassell won 58-55 in overtime. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

“Chassell did a great job of holding their composure in the second half, and I think we ran out of gas a little bit. Chassell played a heck of a game and hit big shots down the stretch.”

Junior Jenna Pietila is one of the Panthers who has an extra gear compared to her opponents due to her cross country background. And so as BR-H (18-6) wore down from applying its constant defensive pressure throughout the game, Pietila had the stamina to hit some of the pivotal shots down the stretch. She swished Chassell’s first 3 in nine tries to cap a 9-0 run and trim BR-H’s lead to 34-32 with 2:05 remaining in the third. Then, in overtime, she scored the first points for either team on another 3 for a 48-45 lead with 2:51 left.

“I trust these girls,” Hainault said. “I know that they’re going to do what they have to do. They fight and never give up. They just grind, grind, grind. Good teams are going to get challenged, and it’s how you respond to it.”

The Panthers made just three 3s on the night after struggling from the outside in the wins over Munising and Ontonagon, going a combined 2 of 12 from 3-point range in those contests. But that didn’t stop Chassell’s Lela Rautiola from pulling with confidence two feet from the top of the key for Chassell’s other 3 on the night, tying the game at 43 with just over five minutes left in the fourth. The Panthers never trailed again.  

Pietila’s 3-pointer in overtime was the only shot attempt and made basket by Chassell (24-1) in overtime. The Panthers scored the rest of their points at the line, finishing 10 of 12 on free throws in the extra session. 

Despite Chassell’s clutch free throws, BR-H made a run, which didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched the back-and-forth contest. 

BR-H senior Megan Robinette banked in a 3 from the right wing before Allen would convert both free throws to keep a 54-50 lead. But the Broncos responded with another 3, this time, from Tatiana LaFave to cut the Panthers advantage to 54-53 with 34.7 seconds remaining. 

All BR-H needed was one slip-up from Chassell, anything to give itself a chance to gain possession with an opportunity to tie the game. The Broncos finally got it when Chassell split a pair of free throws and BR-H’s Grace Peterson attacked the basket for a layup to tie the contest at 55 with just over 20 seconds left. 

But a gassed BR-H defense allowed Pietila to get an angle in the lane. The Broncos’ defense hacked the Chassell guard, who went on to make the go-ahead free throw on her second try after missing the first. 

“Anytime you’re flat-out exhausted, that’s when you’re susceptible to mistakes,” Eagle said. “(Pietila) got past our defender and got fouled under the basket. That’s not desirable for us. You want to contest but not foul.”

Fittingly, the Panthers won this game with their defense — a unit that has allowed just 34.5 points per game this season. 

With 8.8 seconds left, BR-H inbounded the ball and Peterson raced towards the basket once again. This time, Allen picked up Peterson at the 3-point line, and Chassell senior Sydney Danison slid over to stop the drive, allowing Allen to come up with the game-clinching steal. 

“I’m just in shock,” said Danison, who recorded her fifth double-double of the tournament, finishing with 11 points and 17 rebounds. “I’m so proud of the girls and the way we played and came back.”

It was a comeback that had to overcome the Panthers’ worst shooting stretch of the season. Sure, it started out fine when Pietila scored a transition layup off a BR-H turnover for a 6-0 lead 3:24 into the game. But after making three of its first four shots, Chassell shot just 3 of 24 the rest of the half as BR-H outscored the Panthers 31-11 until halftime. 

“I just told them that they have to play their game,” Hainault said about her message during the break. “Just told them to focus on one basket at a time and to play some defense. Have some fun out there, play the game that you know how to play.”

The Panthers made eight of their first 11 shots of the third quarter to spark the comeback. For the game, they shot 18 of 59 (31 percent) and had 28 turnovers. 

The combination of fatigue from its full-court pressure, and perhaps nerves, stifled the BR-H offensive attack. The Broncos made just 8 of 39 shot attempts (21 percent) in the second half and overtime while converting 6 of 12 attempts from the free-throw line during that span. Until the 3s from Robinette and LaFave, BR-H missed its first 11 shots from 3-point range after halftime. 

For the game, BR-H shot 17 of 65 from the field (26 percent) and had 20 turnovers. Robinette led the way with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while junior Lauryn Bloniarz finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

“I was happy with the looks. Anytime you’re open, you’re going to take it,” Eagle said of the 3s in the second half. “We don’t know if they’re going to make it or miss. They were all good shots, I thought. I’d take them again. I train them all year to take that shot.”

Next, Chassell will play Gaylord St. Mary (23-1) in Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday. The Snowbirds defeated Cedarville 61-51 to capture their regional title. 

– – – 

Chassell 6 11 19 9 13 — 58

BR-H 12 19 9 5 10 — 55

Chassell — Pietila 11, Hokenson 6, Huhta 7, Allen 19, Danison 11. Fouled out: Hokenson; Free throws: 19-25; 3-point field goals: Pietila 2, Rautiola. 

BR-H — J. Lockwood 2, Debelak 6, Demers 8, LaFave 9, Bloniarz 11, Robinette 14, Peterson 5. Fouled out: Demers; Free throws: 16-24; 3-point field goals: LaFave 3, Robinette, Debelak. 

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