Hornet girls in WestPAC driver’s seat

CALUMET – After its second big road win in as many WestPAC games, the road to the league girls’ basketball title is not over, but it officially goes around Keweenaw Bay.

L’Anse held Calumet to a single fourth-quarter field goal and held on for a 55-52 win Thursday. The Purple Hornets have only played two league games en route to their now 11-1 record, but on paper, their wins at Houghton (in December) and Calumet appear to be their hardest.

“They’re a good team with girls that have been there for a few years and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that,” Calumet coach Don Hill said. “In the end, it comes down to giving L’Anse the ball 14 more times than we did with turnovers.”

As coach Scott Lloyd expected, L’Anse had its struggles with the significantly bigger Copper Kings, but always seemed to find someone able to keep a few unfruitful possessions from turning into a full-fledged drought.

It got to 43-36 Calumet with two minutes left in the third quarter, but from there, L’Anse executed what amounted to the only significant run of the game, a 13-2 spurt that put the Purple Hornets in the lead for good.

A major strategic point Lloyd cited was getting leading rebounder Valerie Rajala out of foul trouble in time for the stretch drive.

“When we got through the third quarter and only had one team foul, I said, ‘That’s beautiful, now we can amp up the pressure, and that’s what we did,'” he said.

Kelsey Ross scored six points in that key juncture and Madi Swanson five, but the Hornets also got important buckets from Alyssa Norback and Abbey Hendrickson in the fourth quarter to maintain their lead.

“Abbey Hendrickson stepped up, Alyssa Norback stepped up. We talked about it, the ‘big three,’ as you want to call it, Kelsey, Valerie and Madi, they know they’re our feature scorers, so other teams are making other kids on the floor beat them. I thought Calumet did a good job of keeping those girls in check and running a double-team at them,” Lloyd said.

Calumet ended a field-goal drought of nearly 12 minutes when Lexie Rowe scored to make it a one-possession game with 25 seconds left. Rajala missed the front end of a one-and-one on the other end, and coming from an inbounds pass with 1.3 seconds left, Calumet had a clean look to tie for top outside shooter Clara Loukus from in front of the Kings’ bench, but it sailed over the rim at the buzzer.

“They made fewer mistakes than we did. They had 20 turnovers, we had six. Maybe that shows the senior leadership that they have that we’re lacking right now or some of the composure we’re lacking right now. That was the difference,” Hill said.

Swanson had three triples and 15 points to lead L’Anse. Ross added 13 and Hendrickson 10.

Rowe led all scorers with 20 for the Copper Kings, who, with three league losses in a row, are probably looking to the postseason for a prize.

“We need to get back to fundamentals, learning to take care of the basketball, and we need to focus on peaking in late February right now. Our sights are on districts, to be the best team we can be in the last week of February,” Hill said.

Calumet (8-3, 2-3 WestPAC) has three home games next week, starting Monday with Lake Linden-Hubbell.

L’Anse, meanwhile, has a chance to take a stranglehold on the league race on its home floor by beating Houghton in a make-up game Saturday afternoon.

“We match up better with Houghton than we do with Calumet. Calumet scares the heck out of me because of their size. They have good ballhandling now to go with size, so they scare me probably more than anybody around.” Lloyd said.

“That game’s (Saturday) going to depend on whose feature girls get in foul trouble and who hits shots from the perimeter because both teams play pretty good defense.”