If there is such a thing as a moral victory, the Hancock Bulldogs certainly got one in an opening Class C district tourney game Monday against Calumet.
The Copper Kings managed to pull out a 59-55 win, but not before getting a big scare from the Bulldogs.
Beaten by Calumet by 25 points last Friday night, the Bulldogs responded with such a force that it left the heavily-favored Copper Kings hanging on the ropes at times.
“I wasn’t surprised by the way they (Bulldogs) played. I expected it,” Calumet coach Mike Ojala said. “Hancock has a solid five kids they put out there, they’ve got some athletes.
“They’re tough to guard and those two posts (Devin Raasio and Peyton Anderson) are tough inside players. I give them credit for playing hard.”
Hancock coach Matt Strong said his young team (no seniors) played with no fear.
“I thought our poise was very good in this game,” Strong said. “We ran our offense and got inside for some good shots.”
In the end, it was the poise of West-PAC Player of the Year Matt Ojala that pulled the Copper Kings through to their 16th win of the season and a meeting with Houghton on Wednesday for the district crown.
Ojala posted game-high totals of 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
“Ojala is tough to guard,” Strong said. “And he made some real big plays in this game.”
With Calumet clinging to a 53-49 margin with 1:48 left, Matt Ojala nailed a basket and two free throws to keep his team in front.
Trailing 32-25 after a competitive first half, the Bulldogs appeared ready to crumble when the West-PAC co-champs grabbed a 43-27 lead midway through the third frame — only to have the Bulldogs use a 13-5 run to shave the lead to 48-40 by quarter’s end.
“You could see the body language of our guys when we got behind big in the third quarter,” Strong said. “But then they fought right back, almost got to even. That was good to see.”
Raasio, the 6-foot-4 junior, got inside for two hoops, while Jamie Sintkowski and Carsen Chynoweth made 3-pointers in the run.
Hancock made its run in the final frame as Raasio and Anderson keyed the rally and Joe Watson hit a triple.
Besides, Matt Ojala’s big game, the winners received 13 points and eight rebounds from big Cooper Twardzik. Eli McParlan added eight more, hitting two 3s.
Hancock, closing with a 2-19 record, was sparked by Raasio’s 20 points and nine rebounds.
“Devin (Raasio) and Peyton (Anderson) were both effective inside,” Strong said. “They were both strong around the hoop.”
Chynoweth and Anderson each hit 10 points, while Watson chipped in nine more.
Mike Ojala said his team will have to be ready for Houghton — a winner over L’Anse last night — for the title game.
“They (Gremlins) do have the big scorers, but they have some other guys who can do damage,” he said.
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Hancock 7 18 15 16 — 55
Calumet 10 22 16 11 — 59
Hancock — Sintkowski 6, Raasio 20, Watson 9, Chynoweth 10, Anderson 10. FT: 5-5; Rebounds: 24 (Raasio 9); Fouls: 15; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: Sintkowski 2, Chynoweth 2, Anderson 2, Watson 1, Raasio 1.
Calumet — T. Ojala 2, Antilla 2, C. Twardzik 13, M. Ojala 25, McParlan 8, Hyrkas 6, Torola 3. FT: 9-12; Rebounds: 29 (C. Twardzik 8); Fouls: 14; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: M. Ojala 3, McParlan 2, Hyrkas 2, Torola 1.