MONTICELLO — It was hard for Calumet coach Dominique Nelson and his players not to smile after they sidelined Hanover Central 80-69 on Friday in the first semifinal game of the Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional.
Winners of seven of its last eight games, Calumet (13-10) is on a mission. It’s taking it the proverbial one game at a time, but Nelson is not surprised his charges will be playing in a sectional championship game for the first time in 11 seasons.
“We just played as a team (Friday) night,” he said. “Nobody had us winning this game. Everybody counted us out, so ‘why not us?’ mentality.”
Calumet will face the host Vikings, who edged Rensselaer 43-42 in the second semifinal, in Saturday's championship game.
“We’re taking it one step at a time, but we’re going to win,” senior Jaylen Sullivan said.
Hanover’s focus was to try to slow down Calumet’s leading scorers Da’vion Davis and Sullivan, so someone else had to step up for the Warriors. They got it off the bench, as Charles Payne came in to score 13, while reserves Ja’cori Gillespie and Joshua Johnson scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“My guy Joshua ‘Bubba’ Johnson stepped up and played big,” Nelson said. “He’s going to be an all-state football player, and he just stepped up and played big for me.”
Sullivan said the bench players had to step up.
“They came to play,” he said.
Calumet used a 10-0 run late in the second quarter to get the separation it needed with a 36-26 lead. Calumet still led 38-28 at halftime.
Payne scored seven points in the second quarter.
“Everybody has got to play, and we just executed,” Nelson said.
The Warriors maintained a 10- to 12-point lead through much of the third quarter and led 50-41 with eight minutes left. Hanover got no closer the rest of the way.
“When you come in, you’ve got to redeem your partner that came out,” said Payne of his contributions off the bench. “You’ve got to finish what he started.”
Sullivan scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, while Davis chipped in 11 to give the Warriors five players in double figures.
Dominic Lucido led the Wildcats with a game-high 20 points, and Luke Barach finished with 19 for the Wildcats, who were looking for their first sectional title since 1986.
“It’s our Achilles' Heel here, and really all year but certainly since Christmas break, is we don’t defend very well,” Hanover coach Bryon Clouse said. “We’re averaging 72 and we score 69, you would expect to win a game, but at some point we’ve got to learn to defend better. Obviously, that will be a focal point for us this summer.”
Hanover graduates just one senior starter in Joe Jackson, so it has a lot to build upon.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Barach said. “We have great seniors that helped the foundation. Hopefully, we’re better next year than we were this year.”
Calumet will be looking for its first sectional championship since 2000 in the 7 p.m. title game.
“We’ve got one more,” Nelson said. “One of these teams is going to be tough, so we’ve got to hold on.”