Oriole basketball girls defend section crown with team effort
by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
All season long, first-year Osseo girls’ basketball coach John Rieser has been stressing the Orioles have to play as a team to succeed. Sure, the Orioles have Div. I signees in seniors Janay Morton and Phillis Webb but Rieser has preached the other Orioles have to contribute for the good of the team.
“One voice, one team, one game” is the Osseo team motto.
The Orioles demonstrated the importance of team play in their pulsating 57-53 win over fourth-ranked and top-seeded Roseville in the Section 5 championship game at Anoka last Friday night. Osseo, seeded third, led 28-21 at halftime as Morton scored 15 points and Webb 7. Roseville clamped down on the two Osseo stars in the second half, holding Webb scoreless and Morton to four points. But the Orioles still managed to hold off a furious late Roseville rally thanks to the outstanding efforts of the rest of the team.
“We rely on Phillis and Janay for a lot of things but they are two players on a team,” Rieser said. “We have stressed that all year long and those kids know it and some of the kids have been stepping up every single game and have been getting better and better.”
“Osseo is a team,” said Morton. “There is no Janay Morton or Phillis Webb on the front of the jerseys. It’s Osseo, so everybody comes with it.”
The Orioles opened the second half with a 9-2 run without scoring from their leaders. Senior Belinda Barfknecht scored a basket and two free throws, senior Annie Schoeben nailed a three and junior Ayo Porte hit a lay-up and Osseo’s lead grew to 37-23. Roseville made a mini run but Osseo junior guard Madi Malone scored six points, Porte added three points and Morton two free throws as Osseo maintained a 48-38 lead with about 5 minutes left.
The Raiders finally found their offense as senior guard Jacqlyn Poss bombed in two consecutive threes to ignite her team. The Raiders forced many Osseo turnovers and suddenly were able to score from inside and outside. They went on a 13-4 run in the next 3 minutes to close to within 52-51 with 1:20 left.
Morton came through with her only field goal of the half. She missed a close-in shot but put back the rebound for a 54-51 lead with 1 minute to go. Roseville came right back and scored off a drive to make it 54-53 and called timeout with 20 seconds left. In the huddle, Rieser called for a long inbound pass play to avoid getting trapped and his players executed it to perfection.
Webb did a Brett Favre impersonation and fired a perfect strike to Porte, who did her Randy Moss look-a-like and hauled in the pass just past half court. Porte drew the coverage of two Raiders and she spotted Barfknecht hustling down the middle and alertly dished off to Barfknecht for an uncontested lay-up that made it 56-53 with 10 seconds left on the clock.
“We called that play because Phillis can throw the ball and Ayo can catch it,” Rieser said. “And Belinda is sort of the unsung hero on this team. She has done everything we have asked her to do. She just knows what her role is and she does it very well.”
Roseville had one chance to tie but a long three from Poss hit the rim. Malone then nailed a free throw with 1 second left to seal the win.
Poss led all scorers with 20 points. Morton finished with 19 points, Barfknecht had 10, Malone and Porte each had 8, Webb 7 and Schoben 5.
“We don’t just focus on one player, we focus on everyone on our team,” said Barfknecht. “We have great connections, great chemistry, we always work hard and we play great defense. We play as a team and we are carrying on from what we did last year. It’s a great feeling to go back to state again.”
“In the second half they came with more energy but we were not ready to be done with our season. We want to go to state,” said Malone, who scored all her points in the second half. “We knew they would pressure Phillis and Janay so we knew that the other starters along with the bench players would have to step up as a team together and we did.”
The Orioles survived another nailbiter in the semifinal when they edged Centennial 54-51 on March 6.
Centennial came out in a box and one defense and tried to take Morton out of the game. Barfknecht, Porte, Webb and Malone stepped up and freshman guard Ari Jones made some outstanding defensive plays to change the momentum of the game. The score was tied 51-51 late when Webb grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and hit one free throw with 6 seconds left to put Osseo up 52-51. On the ensuing inbound play, Webb tipped the inbound pass and the ball ended up in Malone’s hands Malone hit two free throws to nail down the win.
It was Osseo’s third win this season over the talented Cougars, who were the only team to defeat defending state champ Hopkins this year. Osseo also beat Centennial three times last season, including the 60-48 victory in the section championship game.
“I really don’t have an answer as to our success against Centennial,” Rieser said. “We expected a very physical game, and that is what we got. This was an outstanding high school girls basketball game and the fans certainly got their money’s worth. They are well coached and talented, but somehow we were able to pull this game out.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]