Kings hand Hornets first loss of season

CALUMET – Three nights into 2013, one fact is clear about the Copper Country girls’ basketball season: For the first time in a long time, the WestPAC is up for grabs.

On the strength of a balanced and efficient effort, Calumet took sole possession of an early league lead by topping L’Anse 55-51 Thursday.

“Seventeen assists and 10 turnovers is to me, by far, the biggest stat. We’ve been averaging 20 turnovers a game. Tonight, we took care of the ball, made much better decisions, played with more confidence, played as a team, we shared the ball well. I was really proud of the effort,” Calumet coach Don Hill said.

On the defensive end, the bigger Copper Kings (6-1, 3-0 WestPAC) gave up a moderate night to L’Anse standouts Madi Swanson, Kelsey Ross and Valerie Rajala, but no more.

“They have three primary scorers. We took our chances by sagging off the other two girls and bringing a lot of help defense to the paint to help on Madi. We kind of left two girls a little bit open and said ‘If they’re going to beat us, they’re going to beat us,’ but not their big three,” Hill said.

Calumet led by one at the half. With the game in the balance, the Kings turned to a pair of big guns in Kristy Lasanen and Lexie Rowe. They both responded with 16 points, 12 of Rowe’s coming in the second half and 10 of Lasanen’s coming in the fourth quarter alone.

L’Anse (6-1, 1-1 WestPAC), which suffered its first loss of the year, didn’t benefit from a physical game, nor did it have the same zip as it did before a 20-day hiatus.

“Our halfcourt offense was very bad tonight. I think the lay-off showed it. We were really rusty. Most of the first half, we just stood around and watched someone else dribble,” L’Anse coach Scott Lloyd said.

L’Anse appeared to be out quickly, leading 13-2 less than four minutes in, but back-to-back treys from Lasanen and Terra Erkkila kept Calumet in contact.

The Kings ran back into it late in the first half with a 13-3 spurt and three triples, including Terra Erkkila’s with 40 seconds left to give Calumet its first lead.

“Every time I tried to go into a man (defense), he would isolate his bigs on some of my guards and basically force me to go into a zone, much to my demise. I don’t like to play a zone and what happened was Lasanen and Rowe hit those big threes and even Erkkila hit made one or two threes,” Lloyd said.

Rowe, a sophomore, dominated the third quarter with 10 points, then passed off to Lasanen, who scored Calumet’s first seven points of the fourth. L’Anse kept pace but never got comfortable. Ross drilled a three to put L’Anse up two with 3:50 to play only for Lasanen to cut hard to the hoop and draw a foul to erase the lead just 10 seconds later. Her three-point play marked the last time the Kings trailed.

“We were just doing a little bit of everything. We were being patient with the ball, swinging it in the zone and getting some looks on the three-point line,” Lasanen said.

L’Anse set up for a tying three in the last 15 seconds, but opted to go inside for Rajala, who was immediately fouled on Hill’s orders. She did get a shot off but it didn’t go, nor did either of the two free throws, and Calumet finished it out.

“Home game, in conference. If you want a chance to win such a tough conference, you have to protect your home floor. We were able to do that tonight,” Hill said.

There’s a lot of work to do before Calumet can turn that potential into reality, specifically, the return bout in L’Anse Jan. 31 and games with Houghton Jan. 15 (away) and Feb. 11 (home).

“We know that L’Anse just beat Houghton so, we know that’ll be a big game and we can do it if we keep working hard every day,” Lasanen said.

Swanson led all scorers with 18 points. Ross added 12 and Rajala 11. L’Anse is at Hancock Tuesday night.

Calumet, which won the JV game, is at Ontonagon Tuesday.