Panthers on target

CALUMET – Josh Pietila often literally shuts the lights off after being the last one in the Chassell gym after basketball practice.

Tuesday night he figuratively shot the lights out in Calumet’s gym, resetting his career high for the second straight game with 24 points, including the decisive three in the Panthers’ 51-48 overtime win over the Copper Kings.

“He’s really shooting well and he works hard on that,” Chassell coach Steve Spahn said of his senior guard. “I go home and I just say shut the lights out, Josh. He’s been doing that for a while now, so I’m glad it’s paying off for him. The game is a lot easier when you’re making shots.”

The Panthers were particularly hot in the first half, opening up a 25-15 lead 2:20 before halftime. Calumet threw a variety of pressure defensive packages at Chassell in the second half to claw its way to overtime, but the visitors again hit shots when it mattered in the extra session.

“To Chassell’s credit, when they had an open look, they made us pay every single time, especially in that first half,” Calumet coach Mike Ojala said. ” We were just a little more cognizant of where those shooters were in the second half, and we kept trying to mix in our presses and some half-court traps to keep them off balance a little bit.”

The Copper Kings forced their fair share of turnovers, but struggled to finish around the rim, and surrendered several turnovers right back to the Panthers.

“We pretty much got what we deserved,” Ojala said. “We just can’t waste that many possessions against a 2-3 zone. It was disappointing.”

Both teams turned the ball over several times during the frantic four-minute overtime, but Carson Ryynanen’s bucket just five seconds in set the tone for the Panthers. Calumet’s Paul Torola hit both free throws of a one-and-one as part of his team-high 18-point effort to tie the game with 2:45 left, but then Pietila drilled his sixth triple of the game from the left wing with 52 seconds left.

“It was exciting. We struggled in the second half shooting the ball, at least I did, but Carson shot good and we made big shots in the end,” said Pietila, who had scored 23 points Friday against Republic-Michigamme. “We weren’t nearly as nervous as we were (in a Jan. 10 65-59 overtime loss) against L’Anse.”

Calumet’s Owen Kariniemi had hit a three with 12 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, but the Kings couldn’t find another clutch shot. Calumet has now lost a triple overtime game, 49-48 to Lake Linden-Hubbell, a 40-39 buzzerbeater to Houghton and this 51-48 game to Chassell.

“You just hope that at some point – we expect to have more of these games – that we get the job done in the fourth quarter down the stretch,” Ojala said. “To win close games you have to do three things: You have to be able to take care of the ball on offense, rebound on defense and make free throws, and we didn’t do any of those three things consistently tonight.”

As it did in overtime, Chassell set the tone early in the game, too, as Brant Ryynanen scored all eight of his points to make the score 8-6. After Torola tied it up, Pietila hit his first three and Chassell closed out the first quarter with a 15-13 lead.

Two Pietila triples and an Evan Huhta mid-range jumper paced a 10-2 Chassell run to open the second quarter, but Calumet kept it within six at the half with a late 7-3 run, capped off by a Jake Pieti layup with two seconds left.

The hosts picked up their defensive intensity early in the second half, though, and it only took them four minutes to erase the deficit and take a 31-30 lead.

“The start of the third quarter was terrible,” Spahn said. “They were pressing us and, believe it or not, it might not look like it, but we have a plan against that and we sure weren’t doing it.”

Eventually Chassell pulled it back together offensively, and Pietila turned the tables on Calumet, forcing a pair of steals and transition layups to help get the Panther lead back to 38-31.

But Calumet came back yet again, engineering a 10-0 run with four different players scoring, taking a 41-38 lead only for Pietila to bank home a three from the top of the key.

Calumet, which only led for six minutes in the game, never led again, and only Kariniemi’s clutch three and Torola’s OT one-and-one knotted the game up at 46 and 48.

“We’ve had some close games and lost, so it was nice to get one in overtime,” Spahn said. “When we lost to Hancock (55-49 on Jan. 25) we were 0-for-7 from the free-throw line and couldn’t make a shot with four minutes to go in the game. Really it’s just about making shots at the end and being strong with the ball.”

Chassell (6-6) will look to keep its shooting touch in a key Copper Country Conference clash Friday at Jeffers, while Calumet (8-6) also returns to conference play Friday at WestPAC foe West Iron County.