L’Anse girls claim WestPAC title share, turn to districts

L’ANSE – Job one is done. Job two begins tonight for the L’Anse girls’ basketball team.

The Hornets claimed a share of the WestPAC girls’ basketball championship (with Houghton) after defeating Calumet 78-64 Saturday in the regular season finale.

“We’ve been waiting for this for the longest time. It just means so much. This is one of the best teams we’ve had in a while and we know we can win districts now,” said L’Anse senior Kelsey Ross, who led all scorers with 25 points.

The Hornets take a 17-3 overall record (7-1 WestPAC) into the Class C district tournament at home, beginning tonight against Hancock in the second of two semifinals.

They’ll take a conference championship into the postseason primarily due to the strength of their talented senior class. Not only did Ross have 25 points, but Madi Swanson racked up 13 assists to go with her 17 points and Valerie Rajala posted 16 rebounds and 18 points.

“The girls just delivered. The seniors would not allow us to lose. Very, very pleased,” L’Anse coach Scott Lloyd said.

L’Anse losing seemed a rather remote possibility early on, as the Hornets blasted out to a 15-2 lead in less than three minutes. However, they had to absorb Calumet waves at the end of each of the first three quarters. In the end, L’Anse earned itself too many easy baskets to make defeat a possibility.

“(Calumet) worked pretty hard to get a good scoring opportunity and we seemed to get easier scoring chances than what they had and those pay dividends,” Lloyd said.

Though Calumet (14-6, 3-5 WestPAC) had nothing to play for on paper and the possibility of a rematch looms in Wednesday’s district final provided the Kings get by Ironwood tonight (6 p.m.), coach Don Hill said his team pulled no punches.

“You think of those things before the game, but once the opening tip starts, all that leaves and you play to win. It’s that simple,” he said.

If they do meet again Wednesday, the Kings will need to clean up a count of 23 turnovers.

“Our turnovers weren’t the kind where they take the ball out of bounds. Our turnovers were the kind where they shoot a layup on the other end,” Hill said.

After its early false start, Calumet got itself back into the game quickly. Abby Bjorn’s three 3:28 in was Calumet’s first field goal and started a 9-0 run.

L’Anse surged again with a 15-3 run, including three Ross buckets, for a 30-14 lead three minutes into the second quarter. Again, Calumet countered, as Lexie Rowe hit two treys and Katie Djerf one as the Kings closed to within 34-29 at halftime.

Swanson hit back-to-back threes to triple L’Anse’s lead to nine with 2:58 left in the third frame, only for Calumet to close within three again in just a minute.

A shot from senior Alyssa Norback on the other end triggered the decisive move, a 14-2 spurt that put the Hornets up by an insurmountable 15 with six minutes to play.

Ross, normally an outside shooter, had just one three but finished transition opportunities at the rim with quick hands throughout the game.

“She’s just a gifted scorer, she’s not the fastest, she’s not the strongest, but that girl just knows how to put the ball in the hoop,” Lloyd said.

Rowe finished with 20 points to lead the Copper Kings, who made 8-of-18 attempts from three-point range. Torola added 12.

“When we took care of the ball, we got a good shot every time. We scored enough points to win a basketball game. It’s that simple. We score 64 points, we should win,” Hill said.

For L’Anse, the win is hoped to be the first of several to come.

“We’ve just got to keep the momentum going and keep running the floor and boxing out and playing defense and just keep our momentum throughout the tournament,” Ross said.