Ontonagon leans on defensive adjustment to defeat Jeffers 61-48

Ontonagon’s Brendan Buzzo drives past Jeffers’ Brett Hill during a Class D District 128 opener Monday in Dollar Bay. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette )


DOLLAR BAY — Brett Hill was having his way with the Ontonagon defense. The Jeffers junior guard had 18 points, slashing to the basket and scoring at will.

Ontonagon needed a change if it wanted to win and advance past the first round of district play, so finally, a voice on the bench piped up. Coach Andy Borseth didn’t even know which player it was, but he knew he was right.

“One of my boys on the bench yelled, ‘Hey coach, you need to switch Ed on him,’ and that was the turning point,” Borseth said.

To the outside viewer, it was an unusual move: Ontonagon’s biggest guy matching up with a speedy Jeffers guard.

But Hill didn’t score another point, and Ontonagon pulled off the 61-48 win over Jeffers, Monday in Dollar Bay.

“Eddy does well for a big kid,” Borseth said. “He takes a lot of pride in his defense, and I have kind of challenged him this year to guard some quicker guys and he has responded well.”

The win was Ontonagon’s first postseason victory in six years. The Gladiators defeated Watersmeet 72-61 on March 7, 2012.

In the first half, Jeffers (12-9) and Ontonagon traded baskets for the most part, but Jeffers maintained a lead throughout.

The Jets, led by Hill, attacked off the dribble and created opportunities at the rim, but the Gladiators couldn’t get much going.

“We just weren’t moving well, and weren’t moving the ball crisply,” Borseth said. “You have to have a lot of guys working the baseline and flashing the high post, and I caught them a lot of the time, all four of them were outside the 3-point line. But after chewing them out a little bit at halftime, they got back to what we had initially planned.”

What they planned was to use their obvious size advantage, something Jeffers was expecting. The Jets stuck with their 2-3 zone throughout the game.

“Our game plan was we needed lots of ball pressure, we needed to handle Eddy down low because he is a beast,” Jeffers coach Trent Keteri said. “I feel like our ball pressure was awesome, and we handled Eddy for the most part, but he just chipped away. He is a great player, and he knows how to get in there.”

Polakowski finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, but in the end, it wasn’t just Polakowski who out-muscled the Jets. Ontonagon (10-11) had too many weapons, and they were all firing at the same time.

The Gladiators didn’t get a bench point in the contest, but they didn’t need one. All five starters hit double digits. After Polakowski, Tanner Balcomb had 14 points, Henry Menigoz had 12, and Brendan Buzzo and James Domitrovich each scored 10.

In the second half, Ontonagon got better movement and was quicker up the floor. The Gladiators began to dismantle the Jeffers 2-3 zone.

“Our point guard started pushing the ball a little bit and that’s what helped,” Borseth said. “Brendan Buzzo sparked us a little bit with picking up the pace, getting guys involved and getting a couple of shots himself. That is when things started happening for us.”

Then, with 6:44 left in the game, Buzzo grabbed a rebound and finished off a putback to tie the game at 37. From there, Ontonagon started to build a lead of its own.

“I think we got a little shell-shocked after their big comeback because we were leading most of the game, and as soon as they tied it up, we kind of got a deer-in-the-headlights look,” Keteri said.

With 4:10 left on the clock, Domitrovich lined up a corner 3 to give the Gladiators a four-point lead. Keteri called a timeout, and Borseth let out an excited yell, throwing his fist into the air.

It was a good omen for Ontonagon.

“I was just really happy to see James hit a 3 because he is a streaky scorer, but when he is knocking down shots, it is really good for us,” Borseth said.

From that point forward, Jeffers never threatened. Ontonagon even got an exclamation point on its win when Balcomb ended the game by throwing down a two-handed dunk.

For Jeffers, Hill led scorers with 18 points, and Carson Turner had 16 points and nine rebounds.

Next up, Ontonagon plays Lake Linden-Hubbell on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Dollar Bay for the second round of district play.

– – –

Jeffers 11 13 13 11 — 48

Ontonagon 13 9 11 28 — 61

Jeffers — Kinnunen 6, Hill 18, Turner 16, Hocking 6, Jukkala 2. F: 15. Fouled out: Turner, Hill. Free throws: 1-2. 3-point field goals: Kinnunen 2, Turner 4, Hocking.

Ontonagon — Polakowski 15, Domitrovich 10, Buzzo 10, Menigoz 12, Balcomb 14. F: 13. Fouled out: None. Free throws: 13-16. 3-point field goals: Domitrovich, Menigoz 3.