It’s March Madness, when players without a lot of hype often play starring roles.
Such was the case Wednesday night for Lenny Torola and Jesse Helminen of the Calumet Copper Kings in a Class C district tourney championship game against Hancock.
“No question, Lenny Torola and Jesse Helminen really stepped up,” Calumet coach Mike Ojala said after his team’s 54-46 victory. “They made big plays tonight.”
As advertised, the battle between the two old rivals was a physical war under the hoop.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Torola, who posted nine points and a team-high nine rebounds, said battling the big HCHS front line of Mike McParlan, Reece Anderson and Chad Raasio was a job.
“I’ve been playing against those guys my whole career, whether it was in football and basketball,” Torola said. “And it’s always been a real battle.”
Helminen, the other unsung hero for CHS last night, scored eight of his ten points in the second half.
The first half was nip-and-tuck as the rivals traded the lead like a hot potato.
After an 8-8 deadlock in the opening quarter, the Crimson and Gold managed a slim 23-22 lead at the intermission. Driving Chad Raasio totaled eight points in the second period for the Bulldogs.
The tide began to turn late in the third quarter in Calumet’s favor after West-PAC co-MVP Raasio went down with a leg injury. He never returned to the contest.
“The injury to Chad was a huge factor in the game,” Hancock coach Matt Strong noted. “He’s our best player and does so much. But we kept battling.”
But after dropping behind by a 38-30 margin early in the fourth frame after a 3-point bomb by Torola, the Bulldogs dug in.
Paced by the play of reserve of Joe Watson, the never-say-die Bulldogs went on a 10-0 run to take the lead at 40-38.
McParlan hit the go-ahead hoop on a rebound shot. Watson canned a triple and two other baskets in the spurt.
“I was very proud of what he (Watson) did,” Strong. “I knew he was capable of it.”
Undaunted, the northend crew bounced back after taking the hard punch from the ‘Dawgs.
A layup by Travis Ojala and a close-in basket and a driving layup by Helminen restored the lead at 44-41 with three minutes to play.
The veteran Copper Kings then sealed the deal at the free-throw line.
Wyatt Loukus, a senior who led ‘Kings in scoring this season, knocked down six in a row at the stripe. David Kaipio nailed two more charities.
Mike Ojala said his team doesn’t usually shoot that well at the line.
“We’re normally a horribly good free-throw shooting team,” he said. “But we hit them tonight, particularly Wyatt (Loukus) who wasn’t 100 percent. But he regrouped and gave us a great second half.”
Loukus, who confessed to not feeling well before the game, said he just concentrated on the front of the rim.
“I wasn’t feeling great at the start, but I seemed to get better as the game went on,” he said. “It just feels good to win two districts in a row.”
Ojala liked the defense his team displayed
“We wanted to stay in front of them and take a charge or two,” he said. “They’re good at driving to the basket and I thought our guards (Loukus, Travis and Matt Ojala) did a good job of that.”
Loukus led the 16-6 winners with 13 points. and David Kaipio put in seven. Travis Ojala had four steals.
Chad Raasio led the 11-11 Bulldogs with 13 points in his three quarters of play. Watson was next with 11, while the hard-working McParlan contributed 10 points and 10 boards. Hans Stimac added eight markers.
Strong, is his first year at Hancock, said his team played hard.
“This was a good bunch of kids, they gave it their best all season.”
The Copper Kings will advance to regional play on Monday against the winner of the Ishpeming district — likely No. 1 Negaunee.
“We played them (Minners) earlier this season,” Mike Ojala said. “We have a few things to work on before then.”
Hancock 8 15 7 16 – 46
Calumet 8 14 13 19 – 54
HANCOCK — McParlan 10, Stimac 8, C. Raasio 13, Anderson 4, Watson 11. FT: 6-9; Rebounds: 25 (McParlan 10); Fouls: 16; Fouled out: Blau; 3-point FG: Stimac 2, Anderson 1, Watson 1.
CALUMET — Kapio 7, Twardzik 5, Torola 9, Matt Ojala 4, Loukus 13, Travis Ojala 4, Hyrkas 2, Helminen 10. FT: 14-19; Rebounds: 25 (Torola 9); Fouls: 11; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: Loukus 1, Torola 1.