Girls basketball: Huskies take No. 2 team to wire, then play first playoff game in 30 years

Benny Westcott

The first playoff appearance for the Sweet Home girls basketball program since 1992 was a short-lived one, as the Lady Huskies lost at Marshfield 42-29 on Feb. 26 in a postseason play-in game. Marshfield will move on to the first round of the 4A OSAA playoffs this weekend.

The Huskies found themselves in a considerable hole early in the game that they could not climb out of. The Pirates came out with high energy, buoyed by the home crowd, and forced a succession of turnovers with their extended one-three-one defense. The home team also converted on the offensive end of the court, and Sweet Home found themselves down 14-0 in the last minute of the first quarter before a driving lay-in by junior guard Brooke Burke brought the score to 14-2 after one.

Senior post player Adaira Sleutel made a jumper in the second quarter to bring the score to 17-4, before the Pirates rattled off six straight points. Senior guard Chloe Fairchild then made a bucket to bring the game to 23-6, but another basket and a Marshfield three-pointer with one second left in the second quarter made the score 28-6 at halftime.

“We made them look pretty good in the first half,” Head Coach Michelle Knight said. “That extended ‘D’ was something we haven’t seen this year. Nobody really runs an extended one-three-one defense on our schedule, and we definitely struggled against that.”

She added that nerves may have played a role in Sweet Home’s slow start. “That gym was intimidating. It was a loud gym,” Knight said. “We tried to look at pictures online ahead of time. But none of our girls have any postseason experience, except Sleutel and [freshman guard Kaylynn Mamac] in volleyball.”

The Huskies found their offense in the second half, however. In the third quarter, after being down 38-9, the Huskies rattled off 13 straight points to close the Pirates’ lead to 38-22 going into the final frame. Sleutel rebounded her own missed free throw and hit a jumper to start the run. Sleutel then hit another free throw, and Mamac made an and-one layup that got the Sweet Home fans engaged.

A Sleutel free throw and a Mamac free throw followed, before Burke nailed a three-pointer in the last minute of the third. A Marshfield player let her emotions get the best of her, which allowed Burke to get another point on a technical foul free throw.

Then a drive by Burke made it six unanswered points for the Huskies’ leading scorer this season, and cut the Pirates’ lead to 16. The Huskies’ hot shooting would stall, however, as the team’s next point wouldn’t come until a Mamac free throw with 2:07 left in the game.

A Sleutel lay-up brought the score to 42-25. One final three-pointer by Burke and another Sleutel free throw made the final score 42-29 Marshfield.

Knight said the team made some adjustments in the second half to have more success.

“We just gave our girls some different strategies to get open, because we were struggling to get that initial pass in during the first half, and got trapped in the corner a lot. We moved some people around [in the second half] to get opportunities to get open looks.”

The Huskies also employed a full-court press in the second half to force some turnovers.

The game was certainly a tale of two halves, as Sweet Home lost the first half 28-6 but won the second 23-14.

The Pirates outshot the Huskies 37% to 31% from the field. Sweet Home struggled from behind the arc, going 2-for-13 while Marshfield went 2-for-6.

The Huskies hurt themselves by giving the ball away 23 times, while they only forced Marshfield into 13 turnovers.

Burke and Sleutel each had 11 points. Burke went 4-for-14 from the field and 2-for-9 from three, while Sleutel went 3-for-6 from the field and 0-for-1 from behind the arc. Mamac had four points and Fairchild had three to round out the Huskies’ scoring.

Knight was happy with the Huskies season overall, despite the final loss.

“I’m really proud that the girls made it that far. Our initial goal when we started our season was to make the playoffs.

“It would have been great to win [against Marshfield],” Knight continued. “We didn’t play great. It was not our best game, but that’s okay.”

“[Marshfield] did exactly what we expected them to do, and we were prepared to play against that,” Knight said.

“I don’t know if it was nerves or Marshfield was bigger in real life than we expected them to be, but we struggled to get into our offense and it took us a long time to get our feet under us. We won the second half, but I wish we had gone out stronger and played a better first half.”

Burke said Marshfield might have been a little bit faster on the floor than her team expected going in. She said her team’s performance started to improve when the Huskies’ better figured out how to deal with Marshfield’s one-three-one defense after halftime.

Burke said that she is “extremely proud” of the team. “I’ve never played with a group of girls like this,” she said. “We’re like family. In the last few years, we’ve changed the culture.”

Sleutel said her team didn’t look like itself for much of the game.

“It was not Sweet Home girls basketball,” the senior said. “We are a much better team than what we showed. We didn’t come out and play with intensity, throwing everything on the floor. In the first half we weren’t here at Marshfield High School. We were somewhere up in the clouds.

“We knew they were going to be tough, but we made them look like a championship team.”

Despite the loss, Sleutel was part of a Sweet Home team that made the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. “I’m very proud,” she said. “We made history in Sweet Home.”