Clutch Broncos fend off upset minded Wolverines

PERKINS – Fighting the flu and an improving Mid Peninsula squad it took Bark River-Harris the full 32 minutes to pull out a 63-57 win over the Wolverines on Thursday night.

The Broncos held double-digit leads in both the first and second half of the dual conference game, but they weren’t able to rest as the Wolverines mounted comebacks to keep the game close.

“It was a little up-and-down and it was nice to be in a competitive game down the stretch,” said BR-H head coach Joel Schultz. “That was the first close game other than maybe Gwinn that we were trying to manage. We don’t exactly get an A, we let a little bit of a lead slip down but there was some things we did well and we’re getting better at.”

One of the things the Broncos did well was hit big free throws the stretch. Mid Peninsula cut the deficit to 53-51 late in the fourth quarter but BR-H’s Hannah Starnes drained 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in the last 1:43 of the game to help seal the Bronco victory.

Schultz said it was important that his sophomore guard didn’t back down after struggling to score earlier in the game.

“She is a young player; there has been cases when if some things didn’t go right she might go away a little bit but not tonight. She stuck her nose right in there, kept at it and hit the big free throws down the stretch,” he said. “That’s what these young kids need to learn; they can win games for us. She won a game for us by the way she came in and helped hold the team together down the stretch.”

The Broncos were also aided by their strong defense in the clutch. Bark River used its half-court trap to force two turnovers in the final minute. The Wolverines were forced to foul following the miscues, a stretch in which BR-H connected on four straight free throws to push their lead back to seven points.

“That’s what they’re going to do,” said Mid Pen coach Bobby Reichel. “They’re going to make you turn the ball over. I don’t know how many turnovers we had but it was definitely too many, especially in that first half.”

The Broncos press gave the Wolverines issues in the first half as they fell behind by 10 points at the end of the first quarter and 14 points midway through the second.

“The beginning of the game we came out pretty flat,” Reichel said. “We got down 14 and pretty much the second quarter I told them if they don’t come out now they mind as well pack up and go and they came out and we get within five, so I was happy with that.”

The Wolverines press break suffered as senior Kelsey Shope picked up her third foul in the first quarter. However she did return late in the second quarter to help aid a 7-0 Wolverine run.

“She can play everywhere,” Reichel said. “She rebounds, she passes, she shoots, so it’s really difficult to replace her with anybody.”

Both teams struggled with foul trouble as Shope and Sarah Hanson fouled out for Mid Pen. Caitlyn Frazer fouled out for BR-H, who was also fighting a flu bug that has kept the majority of their team out of practice this week.

The Broncos built a 12 point lead midway through the third quarter and instead of picking up the pace Schultz, noticing his teams fatigue, decided to slow things down in hopes to give his players a rest and pull the Wolverines out of their 1-2-2 zone.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because they went man and we didn’t execute very well; got a couple of charges and just didn’t have the patience,” Schultz said.

Mid Peninsula trailed the entire game and had their best chance with two minutes remaining as Hunter Branstrom split a pair of free throws to cut the Broncos lead to 53-51. It was the second game in a row the Wolverines went neck-and-neck with a top team in the CUP/Skyline Conference as they lost to the 11-1 Superior Central Cougars 49-43 on Monday. Reichel said he hopes his team builds off their competitive losses.

“They’re all moral victories,” he said. “I know Bark River is an honorable mention and Joel Schultz is a great coach and he gets all of his players to work hard, so no matter what kind of team he has they’re always going to come out and work their butt off. They’ve got to take both of these games and use them to build momentum and motivate themselves.”

Bark River-Harris improves to 9-4 overall, 5-1 CUP and 5-2 in the Skyline. They are back on the court this Monday at North Central. Mid Peninsula drops to 6-8 overall, 3-5 in the CUP and 4-6 in the Skyline. The Wolverines host Republic on Monday.