Baraga overcomes mistakes to beat LL-H 64-45

Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette Baraga’s Casey Mleko shoots over Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Erin Seppala Monday in Lake Linden.

LAKE LINDEN — For one quarter against the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes, the Baraga Vikings played the type of basketball that could carry them to East Lansing for the state semifinals. 

Yes, the No. 7 Class D team in the state in the final AP poll — and the top-ranked Class D team in the latest UPSSA poll — was that good early on.

Baraga lit it up offensively, converting five of their first six attempts from 3, all while forcing the Lakes into 10 first-quarter turnovers for a 27-10 lead. 

But Baraga’s stellar start was mired by sloppiness over the final three quarters. And despite the Vikings’ 64-45 win over LL-H in Monday’s Class D District 128 opener, Baraga’s shortcomings have head coach Keith Willis concerned about his team’s chances to advance out of the district, including Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal matchup with the Dollar Bay Blue Bolts (8-12). 

Senior Casey Mleko led the Vikings (18-2) with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and senior Carsyn Osterman added 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. 

“I don’t know if they’re reading their press clippings, but that was not good enough,” Willis said. “We won’t beat Dollar Bay, Jeffers or Chassell. We have to pick it up.”

After Baraga shot 8 of 13 in the first quarter, the Vikings were just 11 of 41 the rest of the way against LL-H’s 1-3-1 zone.

“We had kids on offense forcing shots and it was like, what are you doing? Just throwing shots at the basket,” Willis said. “We just really went in the tank… I can’t make excuses for them. 

“I don’t know. If I knew everything about basketball, I’d write a book and have a house in Jamaica and that’s where I’d be living now.” 

As frustrating as things became for the Purple and Gold, at least the Vikings had that fast start to salvage the night. LL-H was not as fortunate, finishing with 29 turnovers against Baraga’s aggressive 2-3 zone defense. The Lakes (4-17) shot just 12 of 35 (34 percent) for the game. 

“We started out the way the season has been going: turnover after turnover after turnover,” LL-H head coach Maureen Schick said. “It’s insanity to do the same things and expect a different result and yet, that seems to be what happened.”

The miscues, along with the lack of ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, didn’t allow the Lakes to mount a comeback while Baraga struggled on its own offensive end. LL-H shot just seven 3s and only made one as the Vikings continued to pack in their 2-3 zone and intercept or deflect each pass that came inside the zone. 

“We just don’t have shooters and we haven’t had it all season long,” Schick said. “We had people make shots, but no one who is a pure shooter who can stand out there and shoot. 

“When we don’t hit anything from the outside, they could collapse the middle. All my girls tend to want to force the middle, even though they’ve been told we can’t pass there. We stand and look at a girl for 3 seconds before we finally pass the ball and by then, (Baraga) saw it and adjusted to it.”

With Baraga not able to make a shot and LL-H continually turning it over, neither team was able to dramatically change the point spread, allowing the Vikings to hold a comfortable 20-point advantage for most of the night. 

In a contest where 41 fouls were called, the game became a drawn out affair, making Baraga’s start the difference in the contest. 

Senior Justice Kinnunen (2 of 2), sophomore Martina Jahfetson (1 of 1) and senior Megan Kinnunen (1 of 1) were perfect on their attempts from 3 in the first quarter — to go along with Osterman’s made 3 — to fuel the hot start. The Vikings are always known for their stifling defense, but a sharp-shooting offense could potentially put this group over the top if they can consistently replicate the first eight minutes from Monday.

“We have some kids who can shoot 3s. We have not been doing it a whole lot but I see it in practice every day,” Willis said. “We got four or five gunners, which helps out our kids in the paint. So, (that first quarter) doesn’t really surprise me.”

Baraga 27 12 12 13 — 64

LL-H 10 13 12 10 — 45

Baraga — M. Jahfetson 3, M. Kinnunen 5, J. Kinnunen 12, Mleko 25, Osterman 14, A. Jahfetson 2, Pittsley 3. F: 21; Fouled out: Osterman; Free throws: 20-31; 3-point field goals: Osterman 2, J. Kinnunen 2, M. Kinnunen, M. Jahfetson.

LL-H — Keranen 6, Seppala 4, Lepisto 3, Destramp 16, Kierstyn Codere 13, Kirsten Codere 3. F: 20; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 20-26; 3-point field goals: Kirsten Codere.