Calumet clinches share of West-PAC title with win over Hancock
CALUMET — After a shocking loss to Houghton on Tuesday, the Calumet Copper Kings knew they had some work left if they wanted to secure at least a tie for the West-Pac title.
Coach Mike Ojala noticed something important coming into Thursday’s tilt with the Hancock Bulldogs, who had beaten the Copper Kings once this season already: his players had already shrugged off Tuesday’s loss.
“I told the kids in the locker room that they handled Tuesday better than I did,” said Ojala. “I give them all the credit in the world for going out and having a good practice Wednesday and then coming in [Thursday]. This was an absolute war. It was championship-type basketball.”
In a highly physical, tightly-contested affair, the Copper Kings again saw a sizable lead at half, 36-25, dwindle down to 43-42. This time, however, they closed defensive gaps, limited second chances and kept the Bulldogs from ever evening the game en route to a 66-54 victory.
Despite the victory, Calumet (14-6, 6-2) struggled to stop the likes of seniors Chad Raasio and Mike McParlan, whose strong play allowed the Bulldogs to play as physical a contest as the the Copper Kings did. The Bulldogs (9-10, 3-4) did not look like a team that had lost five in a row.
“We are on a five-game losing streak, but our play has been way better than that,” said Bulldogs coach Matt Strong. “We have been playing better the last couple of games.”
Calumet junior Cooper Twardzik picked up five of his 17 points on the night in the opening quarter, but it was not enough to answer the fact that McParlan netted 10 of his 16 with four layups, three of which came off of rebounds.
The second-chance opportunities the Copper Kings gave up throughout the first half frustrated Mike Ojala, but he knew it was not because his players were not working hard.
“Hancock really did a nice job of getting second-chance opportunities in that first quarter and a half,” said Mike Ojala. “It was not for a lack of effort from our kids. We just weren’t sustaining our contact when we bodied them.”
Just when the Bulldogs appeared set to carry a four-point advantage into the second quarter, Calumet senior Wyatt Loukus crossed the line at half court and hit a 3 from 41 feet to pull the Copper Kings within one.
That relatively innocent-looking play helped Calumet carry momentum into the second quarter and that was when sophomore Matthew Ojala — who finished the night with a team-high 20 points — took over the contest.
After not putting up a shot in the first quarter, it took just 14 seconds into the second for Matthew Ojala to cross the top of the key and hit a 3-pointer. Less than two minutes later, he hit one from the right side.
After hitting a jumper, the sophomore hit another 3 from beyond the arc. He added one more with just under two minutes left in the first half to help lead the Copper Kings to that 11-point advantage at the half.
The Bulldogs did everything they could to keep Matthew Ojala from shooting in the second half, and while he did not hit another 3, he went 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.
“He didn’t get a shot off in that first quarter,” said Mike Ojala. “He got the other guys going a little bit. Then he decided he was going to get it rolling. He got a couple of quick looks early and then he got confidence in himself.
“I thought he did a nice job in that second half of just controlling what was there, taking what was given to him. He got to the free-throw line and did a nice job of distributing that basketball for our pick-and-roll game.”
At the same time Hancock was holding Calumet’s top-scorer at bay, the Bulldogs got to work using a bit of the same formula the Gremlins used on Tuesday: for every point or points Calumet scores, hit a 3 to answer.
Raasio opened the third quarter with a 3 just 17 seconds in. Following that, the Bulldogs stayed within eight to 11 points until McParlan put up a layup to cut the lead down to 43-36. Then, in the course of 26 seconds, Stimac hit two 3s one from first from the right side, the second from the right corner to cut Calumet’s lead to 43-42.
“We can stretch out any defense when we are hitting 3s and then pounding back inside,” said Stong. “It opens up the driving lanes too. We have to be hitting shots for that stuff to happen.”
Twardzik picked up a layup with 45.3 seconds left in the third to regain extend Calumet’s lead to 47-44 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, Stimac drained another 3 late, but it was not enough to overcome the effectiveness of Twardzik, who scored six points on two layups and two free throws.
Calumet travels to face L’Anse on Monday in the opening round of the district tournament.
Hancock hosts West Iron County tonight in a makeup game. If Hancock wins, Calumet wins the West-PAC outright. If West Iron County wins, Calumet and West Iron County (12-7, 5-2) share the West-PAC title.
Hancock 14 11 19 10 – 54
Calumet 13 23 11 19 – 66
HCH: Raasio 22, McParlan 16, Stimac 9, Anderson 5, Blau 2; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Stimac 3, Raasio 1
CHS: M. Ojala 20, Twardzik 17, Loukus 12, Torola 6, T. Ojala 5, Helminen 3, Kaipio 3; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: M. Ojala 4, Loukus 2, Kaipio 1