Protecting a three-point lead with 12.5 seconds remaining, Chassell head coach Bill Sleeman was debating the age-old question: To foul, or not to foul?
As it turned out, his players — a prideful bunch — wanted to trust in their defense to stifle the Calumet Copper Kings one more time.
With senior Hunter Rautiola and junior Aaron Barnes convincing their coach to play it straight up, Chassell didn’t allow Calumet to get a clean look from 3-point range, giving the Panthers a 62-59 nonconference win Friday in Chassell.
“I just felt confident in our quickness and our ability to stick on them,” said Rautiola, who finished with 11 points and scored Chassell’s final three go-ahead points.
Calumet sophomore Matt Ojala had recently hit a deep 3 to spark his team’s rally and the Copper Kings inbounded it to him out of the timeout. Ojala dribbled around a ball screen only to find the lengthy Jake Holmes in his face. The Panthers (9-8) managed to tip the ball out of bounds on a ball reversal with 1.3 seconds left before Calumet’s desperation, one-footed prayer at the buzzer missed the entire basket, securing Chassell’s dramatic victory.
“Hunter and Aaron said, ‘Let’s just “D” them up. We won’t let them get a good look,’” Sleeman said about what his players told him during the timeout. “They’re two of my captains, and that’s why they are captains.
“That’s been something we’ve been waiting for all year — for us to respond in those types of situations. We’ve been in a lot of close games this year… We’ve lost (five) games under six points. Those games could have ended like this if we had responded the way we did tonight. It’s a huge step for us as a team.”
Once Calumet senior Jesse Helminen tied the game at 59 with 53 seconds remaining, Rautiola brought the ball up the court and found himself in a similar position as last year. On Jan. 8 of 2016 against the Hancock Bulldogs, Rautiola scored the game-winning layup with 32 seconds left to give Chassell a 33-32 victory. On Friday, that memory played into his mind before he drove up the left side of the court and finished in traffic to put his team ahead 61-59.
Rautiola would go on to make 1 of 2 free throws with 15 seconds remaining for the three-point lead.
“(Calumet) was playing up real high, so I thought I could use my speed and beat them down,” Rautiola said of the go-ahead layup. “I did the same thing against Hancock in the same situation and that came to my mind as I dribbled up.”
Calumet’s difficulty in handling Chassell’s speed was a theme all night, and never more apparent than in the opening quarter, when sophomore Abe Gockenbach sprinted free at will, scoring all 14 of his points in the first quarter.
The Panthers led 22-15 after shooting 10 of 18 in the first eight minutes.
“We spent two days talking about it and knew Chassell was going to come after us with their speed and pressure,” Calumet head coach Mike Ojala said, “and they just punched us right in the face early on in that first quarter. We can’t come out on the road against a team like this and give up 22.”
Just 51 seconds in, Ojala was forced to call a timeout after watching Gockenbach score consecutive, uncontested fast-break layups for a quick 6-0 lead.
But eventually, Calumet (12-5) settled down, and Matt Ojala hit a step-back 3 from the right wing for the Copper Kings’ first lead, 38-37, with 3:48 remaining in the third.
Senior David Kaipio made it 42-37 on a layup off an assist from senior Wyatt Loukus, capping an 11-0 Calumet run. Suddenly, it was Calumet’s size and length in its physical man defense that was dominating the game.
“We just cranked it up defensively,” Ojala said. “With the five-point lead, we talked about taking control of the game.”
Instead, Chassell went on a 7-0 run to close the third quarter for a 44-42 advantage.
A late-game stop didn’t seem necessary when Holmes made it 58-51 with 1:40 remaining; however, Matt Ojala got a friendly roll on a 3 and after a Chassell turnover, Kaipio converted a 3-point play to trim Chassell’s lead to 58-57.
Helminen tied the game after the Panthers split two free throws.
“It seems like we could never get to that point where we could run away,” Sleeman said. “Give (Calumet) credit, they kept making shots.
“We played an excellent first quarter, but I thought we missed a lot of easy opportunities. We also missed a lot of free throws down the stretch that if we made them, it wouldn’t have had to be so exciting at the end.”
Chassell was just 3 of 8 at the free-throw line in the fourth and shot 26 of 60 from the field for the game (43 percent).
For Calumet, Loukus and Kaipio each scored 12 points to lead the way. The Copper Kings converted 22 of 60 (37 percent) shot attempts.
Next, Chassell hosts Baraga on Monday. The Copper Kings head to Lake Linden-Hubbell on Friday.
Calumet 15 14 13 17 — 59
Chassell 22 11 11 18 — 62
Calumet — Matt Ojala 10, Loukus 12, Kaipio 12, Twardzik 2, Torola 8, Travis Ojala 2, Hyrkas 3, Helminen 10. F: 15; Fouled out: Twardzik; Free throws: 9-13; 3-point field goals: Loukus 3, Matt Ojala 2.
Chassell — Rautiola 11, Gockenbach 14, Barnes 9, Holmes 14, Hokenson 8, Goddard 6. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 7-16; 3-point field goals: Gockenbach 2, Goddard.