Despite a roster overhaul from last season’s 23-1 team, Calumet head coach Jeff Twardzik always believed this Calumet Copper Kings squad had enough returning talent and new contributors to make a run to the state semifinals at the Breslin Center.
Calumet kept its postseason dream alive by capturing its third consecutive district championship with a dominant showing in a 54-40 win over the Hancock Bulldogs Wednesday in Calumet.
The Copper Kings (15-5) will face Friday’s winner between the Negaunee Miners (16-5) and Ishpeming Hematites (17-4) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in a regional semifinal at Marquette High School.
“I’ve had all the belief in the world in this group. We just needed a little bit of time together,” Calumet head coach Jeff Twardzik said. “I still think we can go deep and get through that regional. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I have all the faith in the world in them.”
“The goal every year is to make it to the Breslin,” Wickstrom said. “This was the first step, and we are taking it one game at a time.”
The game changed when Twardzik decided to switch his team’s defense from the 2-3 zone they started in, to the typical high-pressure man defense they are known for. Up to that point, Hancock (11-10) had an 8-5 lead midway through the first quarter before Calumet closed the first half on a 22-3 run for a 27-11 halftime lead.
“We had talked in practice before that there is nothing left to learn. Just have to get better at what we do,” Twardzik said, “and (pressure man-to-man defense) is what we do. Finally, I was like, let’s do what we do, and they went out and did it.”
Once Calumet went man, Hancock struggled to find open looks and scored just one basket the rest of the half: a driving layup by senior Maija Sebbas with 1 minute, 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
With Wickstrom patrolling the paint, the Calumet guards could apply pressure without worrying about getting beat off the dribble, thanks to knowing that Wickstrom was behind to challenge shots at the rim.
The Bulldogs shot just 4 of 16 with 12 turnovers in the first two quarters.
“We backed away from their pressure,” Hancock head coach Jack Johnson said. “Not to use youth as an excuse, but when you have a junior pressuring a freshman, it’s a very rare situation where the freshman steps up and attacks that pressure.
“Tonight, our girls just backed away and shied away from the pressure. We knew if that was going to be the case, we were going to be in trouble.”
While Wickstrom was the leading scorer, multiple members of Calumet stepped up, offensively, to build a comfortable lead.
Junior Lea Bjorn added nine points and tied the game at 8 when she swished a 3 from the left wing.
Junior Brooke Kariniemi connected on a momentum-building 3 from the right wing for a 13-8 lead, and junior Amber Johnson attacked the basket in the second quarter for six key points.
As a team, Calumet shot 20 of 43 (47 percent).
“It doesn’t surprise me anymore. It could be three or four people that could be the high scorer on any night,” Twardzik said, “and that’s what we need if we want to go deep.”
After Hancock came out for the second half as the halftime countdown clock was winding down into the final seconds, Wickstrom scored eight of her 16 in the third quarter to give the Copper Kings a 44-21 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, all but sealing the game’s outcome.
Hancock finished the night 14 of 43 from the field (33 percent) with 17 turnovers. Freshmen Taylor Sebbas and Jordan Pertile each scored nine to lead the Bulldogs.
“I thought we were just outplayed by a better team,” Jack Johnson said. “My hat goes off to Calumet. In every aspect of the game — guard play, shooting, rebounding — they’re just a better ball club.”
The winner of this district appeared to be poised to face the Munising Mustangs, who finished the season 20-0 and No. 1 in the UPSSA Class ABC poll. But Ispheming handed the Mustangs a 79-62 loss.
Calumet has already seen Ishpeming and Negaunee — both on the road — this season. On Dec. 20, Ishpeming earned a 61-49 win, while the Copper Kings were able to top Negaunee 57-47 on Feb. 7.
Hancock 8 3 10 19 — 40
Calumet 15 12 17 10 — 54
Hancock — Mialy Brooks 5, Maija Sebbas 8, Taylor Sebbas 9, Lorenzetti 3, Pertile 9, Berg 5, Heinonen 1. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 6-11; 3-point field goals: Pertile 2, Brooks, Maija Sebbas, Lorenzetti, Berg.
Calumet — Niina Anderson 6, Ava Anderson 4, Bjorn 9, Johnson 6, Kariniemi 8, Peterson 5, Wickstrom 16. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 11-16; 3-point field goals: Bjorn, Kariniemi, Peterson.