Opponents throughout the western U.P. know how hard it is to defend Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert. Here, she lines up two of her game-high 34 points against West Iron. Defending are Jaclyn Waara (23) and Shannon Koski, with Megan Miatech (44) in back.
CRYSTAL FALLS—Boosted by both Lexi Gussert’s 34 points and a noisy student section, Forest Park’s girls team won another rematch Feb. 9.
This may have been the sweetest of all: The Lady Trojans led West Iron County most of the game and broke it open with a 24-11 fourth quarter to nail down a 62-45 win before the happy home fans (and a good many disappointed Wykon backers).
“Our whole team played so exceptionally well tonight,” Coach Jeff Syrjanen said shortly after the final horn. “It took that kind of a game for us to beat a team of that quality.”
Earlier last week, Forest Park demolished Baraga 70-42 at home. The two wins boost the Lady Trojans’ record to 13-5—they are 8-2 in the Skyline Conference.
Early-season losses to North Central and Bark River-Harries had already been avenged. After losing a rematch with Kingsford a week earlier, the Lady Trojans focused on the Wykons, who edged the Lady Trojans 51-48 at their gym Jan. 6.
So did the Forest Park student body, which was out in force—especially the boys, who were mostly wearing black shirts, put eyeblack on their faces and cheered loudly for the girls
“Seeing all those kids out there tonight,” the coach commented. “ I haven’t seen that ever here. What a treat!”
The Lady Trojans took it from there. FP got an early 4-0 lead, but threes by WIC’s Kylee Erickson and Jaclyn Waara and a bucket by Alexis Heimerl put the Wykons up by four, 12-8. Nobody knew it then, but it was West Iron’s biggest lead of the night.
Early in the second quarter, three Gussert baskets and two Kaitlin Shamion free throws put the Trojans up 18-14. They led 26-21 at halftime.
The key to winning, Syrjanen said, was slowing the game. “We know they like to run—they’ve got quick hands and get lots of lay-ups.
“We said, if we can take their lay-ups away and get in their shooters’ faces and control the pace, I think we have a chance.”
Early in the second half, back-to-back threes by Shannon Koski and Erickson and Heimerl’s baseline shot put West Iron back in front 29-28.
But not for long. Gussert’s three-point play and her triple got the Trojans back in front. Wykon free throws cut the gap to one, but Gussert’s bucket off Audrey Sholander’s assist and a Sholander free throw put FP ahead 38-34 after three.
FP broke it open early in the fourth quarter. Tanner Bartczak hit a three, and Gussert converted a three-point play. After a West Iron bucket, Gussert hit another trey for an 11-point lead, 47-36. The Wykons never got closer than eight after that.
The Lady Trojans’ 6-1 sophomore had a huge influence on the game, said Wykons Coach Mike Dallavalle. “Lexi did a great job making decisions with the ball,” he said. “If she had the shot or the drive, she’d take it. If not, she was hitting open people, and Bartczak and Sholander stepped up tonight.”
When the Wykons had the ball, “Lexi is so tall and can jump so high, we kind of shied away from a lot of stuff inside tonight.”
In the fourth quarter, Gussert scored 10, Bartczak had seven and Sholander added five. For the game, Gussert scored 34, and Bartczak and Sholander both had 10. Gussert also had 11 rebounds and two blocks,
Koski’s 15 points led West Iron, and Heimerl scored 10. Erickson and Waara both scored eight.
The Trojans had a big edge in shooting, 38% (21 of 55) to WIC’s 28% (17 of 61), and an 11-point edge at the free throw line (FP: 17 of 21; WIC, 6 of 10).
Both teams had star players coming off injuries or recent surgery. “We can be very proud of all our girls in Iron County,” Syrjanen said. “They’re gamers, they’re gutsy people, and it’s a privilege to be around kids like that.”
On Feb. 6, the Lady Trojans hosted Baraga, but the Vikings didn’t stay close for long. Gussert and Sholander led the Lady Trojans to a 16-4 lead after one.
“We came out and used a little more pressure on defense than we usually do,” Syrjanen said, resulting in steals and fast breaks. Gussert’s three at the halftime buzzer put FP ahead 36-17.
The offense was in high gear in the third quarter, with Bartczak scoring 10 of her 15 points and Sholander adding six.
After concentrating on passing and rebounding in the third quarter, Gussert scored another nine early in the fourth quarter. She finished with 30 points, Sholander had 19, and Bartczak scored 15. The Lady Trojans shot 53% overall and 5 for 12 on threes.
As the playoffs near, said Syrjanen, the Lady Trojans are raising their game. “Right now, it’s going to take a good team to beat us.”
• The Trojans host North Dickinson this Thursday, Feb. 16, their only game this week and their final home game—it’s senior recognition night. The regular season ends at Mid Peninsula on Feb. 21.
The District 127 tournament at Bessemer starts Feb. 27 when the Lady Trojans face Watersmeet.
Vikings 4 13 10 15 -- 42
Trojans 16 20 22 12 -- 70
Wykons 12 9 13 11 -- 45
Trojans 10 16 12 24 -- 62