CHASSELL - In past seasons, the Ontonagon and Chassell High boys' basketball teams were usually battling for the Copper Country Conference title at this stage of the winter.
That wasn't the case Tuesday night, the two teams fighting mostly to gain some momentum for the upcoming district tournament.
"We're looking to get back on track at this point," CHS coach Steve Spahn said after his team's 52-48 victory at Ed Helakoski Memorial Gymnasium. "And I think we did get some things accomplished tonight. I was happy with the way we finished the game, for one thing."
Chassell’s Jordy LaTendresse puts up a shot during the first half of Thursday’s game against Ontonagon. (Paul Peterson photo)
Hanging on to a slender 42-40 lead with 3:16 remaining, the winners managed to get the ball into the hands of senior guard Josh Pietila.
Pietila responded by sinking 8-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal his team's 7th win in 14 tries (4-3 in the league) this season.
"They (Panthers) were very good at getting the ball in to Pietila, he's their best shooter," OAHS coach Tim Nelson commented. "But I liked the way we kept scrapping in this game."
Ontonagon 8 12 12 16 - 48
Chassell 11 15 10 16 - 52
Ontonagon - Aaron Kaikko 24, Seth Rowles 6, Tony Soumis 10, Kyle Karttunen 5, Eric Majurin 3. FT: 6-10; Rebounds: 33 (Majurin 8); Fouls: 17; Fouled out: Rowles; 3-point FG: Kaikko 3, Rowles 2, Majurin 1.
Chassell - Brant Ryynanen 9, Josh Pietila 14, Evan Huhta 18, Carson Ryynanen 4, Steve Tuominen 2, Jordy LaTendresse 5. FT: 12-19: Rebounds: 42 (Huhta 15); Fouls: 11; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: B. Ryynanen 2.
The Gladiators, an uncharacteristic 3-10 (3-5 in the CCC) so far, fell behind by as many as 14 points in the game.
But thanks to some accurate outside shooting by Aaron Kaikko, the Maroon and White stayed close.
Chassell took leads of 11-8 and 26-20 after two quarters and then zoomed out to a 34-20 advantage in the the third frame behind some stellar inside play by senior center Evan Huhta.
The Gladiators reduced the deficit to 36-32 by the end of the stanza, however, and then moved closer in the fourth quarter.
A steal and layup by Tony Soumis made it 42-40, and Ontonagon had a chance to take the lead when Kaikko lined up a triple try shortly afterward.
But Huhta, who totaled a team-high 18 points and 15 rebounds, snagged the carom and the Panthers were able to finish out the game at the stripe.
Spahn credited the 6-foot-5 Huhta with a strong effort.
"His play tonight was the difference," the CHS coach said. "It took some pressure off Josh Pietila, who's been leading us all season."
Nelson said Chassell's full-court pressure, while causing 22 turnovers, was handled better than earlier this season by his team.
"Our ballhandling was better in the second half and we did have some open looks at the basket," he said. "We just didn't hit them."
Pietila backed up Huhta's big game with 14 points, despite having a rare off night from the floor. Brant Ryynanen added nine markers and Jordy LaTendresse grabbed eight rebounds.
Kaikko splashed in 24 points for game honors, while Soumis turned in a steady game with 10 points and five steals.
Chassell goes to Ewen-Trout Creek on Friday night. Ontonagon will travel to Hancock the same evening.