After an impressive win at Negaunee on Tuesday, The Copper Returned home to face a strong Escanaba team here on Thursday. With only a handful of tuneups left for both teams before their respective district tournaments, the Calumet Copper Kings and Escanaba Eskymos met in a key late-season matchup at the Calumet Gym Thursday night.
The contest had all the makings of a heavyweight boxing match with multiple lead changes, an unbelievable battle of the bigs, and some incredible clutch play from Calumet junior Niina Anderson as the Copper Kings emerged victorious in the end, 54-47.
For coach Jeff Twardzik’s Copper Kings, Anderson has taken her coach’s challenge to heart and quietly morphed into an offensive catalyst. She finished her night tied for the game-high score of 14 points with senior Hailey Wickstrom.
“She’s really coming on right now,” said Twardzik of Anderson’s play. “Obviously, she is trying to fill big shoes from Clara Loukus last year. Niina Anderson is taking care of business. Every game, she’s better.”
Calumet, who was playing their third tough game in four nights, jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, only to see that lead evaporate until the Eskymos led 15-12. That was when Anderson first impacted the scoreboard by crossing midcourt and unleashing a 3-pointer from inside the center circle that caught only net, evening the game from 40 feet.
That shot calmed the Copper Kings down and kept the Eskymos from being able to capitalize on any momentum they might have had for the rest of the night.
“It’s funny how a play like that can put a smile on the kids’ faces,” said Twardzik. “You could see a play like that went in and they all took a deep breath.”
In the second quarter, the battle of the bigs began as the 6-foot-3 Wickstrom squared off with the equally tall Jennifer Brandt. When the dust settled, Wickstrom outscored Brandt by two points, but Eskymos coach Mike Beveridge was proud of the effort put in by his senior center.
“I told Jenny before the game, ‘You played with her for four years, this is your last chance at her,’” said Beveridge. “I thought Jenny did very well with her. It was two young ladies playing very hard and they matched each other.”
Brandt led the charge for the for the Eskymos in the second quarter, picking up half of her 12 points during a five-minute stretch by driving hard to the basket and finding soft spots underneath Wickstrom.
Wickstrom flipped the script on Brandt in the second half, and Twardzik was proud of the effort she gave against a worthy opponent.
“I loved to see that,” said Twardzik. “Congrats to both of them. That was a great war. It was clean and I think the kids respected each other. It was fun to watch.”
Trailing 27-26 at the start of the second half, Wickstrom got the Copper Kings started with a quick layup just 18 seconds in. The Eskymos answered quickly with a layup from Madeleine Willis. Willis would added three more baskets over the course of the quarter.
Every time Escanaba jumped ahead, however, Calumet found a way to stick close, allowing them to wear down the Eskymos’ defense until Anderson picked up a layup with a strong move to the basket with 2:55 left. Then, just 24 seconds later, she stopped at the top of the key and drained her second 3-pointer of the night and suddenly the Copper Kings were ahead, 39-37.
The teams traded baskets until Calumet junior Lea Bjorn picked up a layup with 35.4 seconds left that put the Copper Kings up, 43-41, heading into the final eight minutes of regulation.
Beveridge was proud of the effort his girls put up to keep their composure to that point in the game and beyond.
“We played four quarters pretty much even,” said Beveridge. “My girls don’t quit. Calumet doesn’t quit. They got a little spurt in that fourth quarter. We sloughed off a little bit on defense and Calumet stepped it up a notch.”
Beveridge was referring to a two possessions span where everything changed positively for Calumet.
Copper Kings junior Amber Johnson, who has developed into Calumet’s top defender, was the recipient of a quick pass at the end of a four-pass play to get the ball down the floor. She put up a quick layup that opened a four-point lead for the hosts. On the next possession, she did it again, putting the game out of reach.
“Amber is our best defender,” said Twardzik. “She’s giving all her energy there, but offensively, she comes up with big plays. She’s doing a great job.”
The Eskymos (8-9) picked up six points in the final 5:23, but it was not enough to overcome the eventual seven-point advantage the Copper Kings opened up.
Calumet (11-4) returns to action Monday when they play host to the Houghton Gremlins in a key West-PAC matchup.
Escanaba 15 12 14 6 – 47
Calumet 15 11 17 11 – 54
EHS: Brandt 12, Willis 12, Gauthier 8, Theut 5, Griffin 4, Bougie 2, Barron 2, Chaillier 2; Fouls: 12; Fouled out, none; 3-point field goals: none
CHS: Anderson 14, Wickstrom 14, Kariniemi 11, Bjorn 9, Johnson 6; Fouls: 9; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Anderson 2, Bjorn 2