Prep girls basketball: L’Anse holds off Norway to reach regional final

ESCANABA – It wasn’t the best shooting night for L’Anse, but the Purple Hornets were clutch down the stretch as they edged Norway, 65-54, in an MHSAA Class C girls basketball regional semifinal on Tuesday in Escanaba.

Norway (9-13) scored first, but L’Anse (19-3) led the rest of the game. However, the Purple Hornets struggled to create some space from the Knights, who cut L’Anse’s lead to 53-51 with just under four minutes to play in the game.

L’Anse responded with a 12-3 run, paced by Kelsey Ross, Madi Swanson and Abbey Hendrickson.

Ross scored to put L’Anse ahead 55-51. Norway freshman Britta Grayvold split a pair from the line on the next possession, before Hendrickson scored to give the Purple Hornets a 57-52 lead with 3:17 left.

Swanson scored in the lane with 2:43 remaining, giving L’Anse a seven-point edge. Norway failed to score on the ensuing possession and after a minute of slowing down the offense, Ross found herself open from beyond the arc. The senior guard let it fly and connected on a 3-pointer that put L’Anse up 62-52 with 1:36 left.

“It wasn’t a shot I was even looking for,” said L’Anse head coach Scott Lloyd. “We were just trying to take some time off the clock, but she’s a shooter and if she’s wide open she has the green light to shoot and nine times out of 10 she is going to make it. She’s done that all year for us.”

Ross, who scored a team high 18 points, had to look for her shot often as Swanson, L’Anse’s leading scorer, battled with foul trouble for the majority of the game. Starting center and leading rebounder Valeria Rajala also dealt with foul issues.

“Foul troubles were huge,” Lloyd said. “We had two of our main five in real foul trouble and they were in foul trouble the whole night so that kind of dictates a change in what you’re trying to do.”

The Purple Hornets missed Rajala’s size inside, as the Knights pounded the ball down low and cleaned up on the glass. Norway’s Ashley Zanon scored 17 of her game high 21 points in the second half. The junior forward did most of her work in the paint, where she snagged offensive rebounds and drew fouls.

“Ashley was a key player,” Norway Coach Carli Kelly said. “She was all over the floor rebounding and taking it hard to the basket. She really had the game of the year.”

L’Anse’s lead stretched to double digits multiple times in the second half, but each time Norway responded with a mini run of its own to keep the game within striking distance.

L’Anse led 47-37 with 7:12 to play before Zanon scored and was fouled. After building their lead back up to 11 points minutes later, the Purple Hornets once again fouled Zanon, as she made a lay-up. She was unable to convert the old fashioned 3-point play, but Grayvold grabbed the miss and scored, cutting L’Anse’s lead to 51-44.

“Anytime it seemed like we built a little bit of a stretch run we’d pick up a foul and we’d just coming grinding to a halt again,” Lloyd said. “They beat us up on the boards, that kept them hanging around.”

Swanson led L’Anse with 7 assists. Rajala and Lindsey Hulkonen each recorded seven rebounds for the Purple Hornets.

Grayvold added 15 points for the Knights.

“We came out a little slow but we really picked it up in the second half,” Kelly said. “Our free throw shooting hurt us (9-24) and at times we didn’t get back on defense.

“L’Anse didn’t hurt us with the three-pointers but they had good thrashers to the lane.”

L’Anse advances to face St. Ignace in the regional championship on Thursday in Escanaba. The Saints (20-2) defeated Ishpeming 66-30 on Tuesday.