Baraga High School Vikings girls basketball team earns first-ever berth in state championship game after 46-44 win over defending champion Fowler
EAST LANSING — When their team headed to Munising on Tuesday to play in the MHSAA Division 4 quarterfinals, Baraga girls basketball coach Tyler Larson billed the team’s travels as a business trip.
They were in the business of winning a state title.
That night, the Vikings downed the Mackinaw City Comets, then on Thursday night, they took their quest one step further by knocking off defending state champion Fowler at the buzzer 46-44 to advance through the semifinals.
Baraga has been taking care of business, earning one final game at Michigan State University in East Lansing at 10 a.m. today. They will face Maple City Glen Lake for the state title on the Breslin Center court with the cameras of Bally Sports Detroit there to televise it.
The semifinal rematch from last year — which stopped the Vikings in their tracks then — this time was a back-and-forth battle from the opening tipoff and came down to the final seconds.
The game was tied 44-44 with 21 seconds left and Baraga with possession before the Vikings turned the ball over due to the call of an offensive foul.
With 9.9 seconds on the clock, Fowler now had the ball and a chance to win its third state semifinal game in a row. But the Eagles were also called for an offensive foul on the inbounds play, sending Baraga’s Corina Jahfetson to the line with a chance to put her team ahead, very possibly for good.
The senior Viking did just that, sinking both free throws for a two-point lead. Fowler got the ball back with less than three seconds left — plenty of time to put together a play, but not much extra. Then a desperation shot at the buzzer was off the mark and the Vikings made school history.
“The Baraga girls basketball program has never made it to the state finals,” a happy and relieved Larson said. “I could not be prouder of these girls. This is what we’ve worked for all season.”
A year ago at this time, the Vikings were lamenting that loss to Fowler and wondering how things could have gone differently in a 51-45 setback.
Larson said that last year’s first-time experience at the Breslin certainly was an eye-opening experience that planted a goal in his team’s minds and hearts for this season.
“That shock value of walking into the Breslin was not a factor this year,” the second-year varsity coach said. “After tasting the final four, these girls wanted to get back.
“And that’s been our focus all season. I can’t say enough about the determination that these girls have.”
Fowler opened Thursday’s contest with a 10-6 lead after the first eight minutes, but the Vikings came back in the second quarter to take a 17-15 lead into the locker room at half. They kept a one-point lead at 26-25 after three periods, and it became a race to victory in the final eight minutes.
In fact, Larson predicted it.
“I told our coaches before the game that the first team to 45 (points) is going to win this one and look at the score,” the coach said about the 46-44 final.
Makenna Hendrickson led Baraga scorers with 17 points and was a force to be reckoned with on defense. She was the cause of seven or eight jump balls and did not make life easy for the Eagles.
“She was everywhere on both ends and did not give up,” said her coach. “She wanted this so bad, and it was clear.”
Teammate Kylie Michaelson added 10 points, while Emma Riley led Eagles’ scorers with 21.
Neither team shot well, the Vikings making just 27% and the Eagles slightly better at 34%. Free throws did make the difference, mostly in volume. Baraga was 21 of 29 (72%), while attempted just 11 and made 7 (63%).
Larson said that he and his crew have been going through film for today’s final nemesis — the Lakers of Maple City Glen Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula.
“They are a strong team, obviously — strong across the board,” he said. “But if we bring the passion, hustle and intensity of (Thursday) we will stick with them, and hopefully we will bring home a trophy.”