By BRANDON VEALE
L'ANSE - Calumet faced several unusual challenges in its Class C district opener Monday.
Calumet’s Nikki Polakova fights with Ironwood’s Kacie Lundin for a loose ball in the first half of Monday’s Class C?district semifinal in L’Anse. The Copper Kings won 67-27. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
First, an Ironwood team they'd not seen since the Red Devils left the WestPAC after the 2009-10 season; second, a 1-3-1 zone defense; third, a strong lefthanded frontcourt player for the Kings' tall forwards to deal with.
It took them about five minutes to catch up before they blew past the Red Devils 67-27 for a berth in Wednesday's championship game against host L'Anse.
"We finally were able to control the boards a little bit and push the tempo. We hit a couple threes to loosen things up and I think once we got the first five minutes under our belt, the jitters sort of left and we got into some sort of a better flow," Calumet coach Don Hill said.
Calumet 18 18 19 12 - 67
Ironwood 13 4 3 7 - 27
Calumet - Clara Loukus 14, Alexa Anderson 3, Lexie Rowe 19, Tristan Baranowski 5, Loretta Halonen 8, Katie Djerf 8, Nikki Polakova 4, Janie Torola 2, Ellen Twardzik 4; FT: 4-6; Fouls: 10; 3-point field goals: Loukus 3, Anderson 1, Rowe 2, Baranowski 1.
Ironwood - Katie Piispanen 2, Kacie Lundin 1, Jessica Gering 9, Payton Aho 4, Emily DiGiorgio 11; FT: 6-12; Fouls: 11; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Gering 1.
Calumet's offense didn't fare well against the 1-3-1 in the early going, as Lexie Rowe's 14-footer from the left corner was its only field goal in the first 5 1/2 minutes. On the other end, DiGiorgio, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, and senior Payton Aho both scored twice and Ironwood had a 9-4 lead just past the halfway point of the frame.
Rowe added a two and a three 21 seconds apart to tie the game, then Nikki Polakova scored quickly after to give Calumet its first lead. Ironwood responded on the other end, but the first of three triples from Clara Loukus put Calumet in the lead for good.
"We've seen a couple odd-front zones, but it's been a 3-2, so the 1-3-1 is a little bit of a learning curve, but we were finally able to adjust and look for the diagonal pass and be able to hit that a couple of times," Hill said.
Given a quarter to get the hang of it, Calumet started exploiting the Ironwood defense in the second quarter. Katie Djerf scored on a putback and a backdoor cut on consecutive trips. With the interior softened up, Calumet went outside, getting threes from Tristan Baranowski and Rowe.
Calumet's 20-2 run ended on a three from Ironwood's Jessica Gering early in the third quarter, but the Kings went down on the other end and scored 20 more in a row to put the game way out of reach.
"They were quick, they kept the tempo up the whole game. We were able to do it for one quarter, they did it for four quarters," Ironwood coach Noel Aho said.
"We knew we had to kind of get out on them, but they still made seven three-pointers. They moved the ball around well, they get it in, kick it back out. They moved our zone and they did a nice job with that."
DiGiorgio, though effective early, scored nine of her team-high 11 points in the first quarter. Gering added nine as the Red Devils finish the season 9-12.
Rowe led the Copper Kings (15-6) with 19 points. Loukus added 14.
Calumet will play L'Anse in its first district final since 2010.
'From playing in this gym Saturday and playing in this gym tonight, we're getting more comfortable with the surroundings and we've got a game under our belts. Hopefully, the tournament jitters are going to be gone and we can just come out and start playing great from the start because we're going to have a tough game Wednesday no matter who we play," Hill said.