HURLEY - Hurley controlled the game and led from start to finish in defeating Bessemer 54-46 in a battle of second-place Indianhead Conference East Division teams at the Hurley K-12 School.
Back on Dec. 16, the Speedboys took down the Midgets 67-49 in the House of Noise, but it was a reversal of fortune for the Midgets, who took over sole possession of second, on Friday night.
"It was an accumulation of a fun week of playoffs approaching, homecoming and playing very well after they beat us by 18 at their place," Hurley coach Gary Giancola said. "This was a good gauge of where we are at. We came in very focused. The effort and determination we had playing defense as a team was the best we've had all year.
"This team has a good feel to it right now. We stayed competitive for 32 minutes and this is a big step forward for us. We rise to the occasion when March Madness hits. We rise to the occasion in all sports when the playoffs start."
After playing so well for most of the year, Bessemer coach Jim Partanen knows his team is going through a slump that just about every team goes through during a long season. The Speedboys also lost to Wakefield-Marenisco Tuesday.
"We're playing, but we're not competing right now," Partanen said. "Teams have stretches like that. We haven't shot well since Bayfield, but we didn't shoot well today because Hurley's defense played well in stretches. (James) Sukanen and (Mark) Saari really played well for them. In the fourth quarter, Saari was a man."
But both coaches agreed what won it for Hurley was the tempo of the game.
"That was the difference between winning and losing," Partanen said. "We lost to Hurley and Wakefield because of the tempo of the game. When we ran today in about three stretches we did well. But Hurley called time out and settled their kids down."
Giancola said the tempo Hurley has to play is different from Bessemer's running style.
"We rode emotion to start the game and didn't get caught up in Bessemer's tempo," Giancola said. "We have to be grinders and grind out our shots. We played to our strength. The kids are starting to learn that. We ran some good sets. When we control tempo and hit our shots, we can play with anybody."
It was apparent early on that the Midgets meant business when Jake Colassaco and Saari hit shots to take a 4-0 lead. Bessemer's Jess Mazzon and Sukanen traded old-fashioned three-point plays, but Colassaco's deep 3 gave Hurley a 14-6 advantage with 3:10 remaining.
In the second quarter, Colassaco made back-to-back dribble drives to the basket and put the Midgets up 25-12.
Ben Zielinski and Nick Cossi buried triples to whittle Hurley's lead to 30-23 and Bessemer would make a few runs at Hurley's lead but never seemed to be on their game.
"Those two 3s could have changed momentum, but we answered every run they had," Giancola said.
Early in the fourth quarter, Zielinski drove down the lane, made a lay-up and narrowed Hurley's lead to 40-35. But Jared Wendt tossed in a 3-ball from the corner and then drove the middle and made a running one-hander.
Hurley also had a big rebounding advantage and Saari powered up two putbacks for scores.
Giancola said that any chance Hurley has to tie Ironwood for the Indianhead East Division title would come if Hurley wins outs in the regular season and Ironwood loses its final two games.
"It's not impossible," he said. "I'm not expecting that, but it could happen. I'm not really looking at that. We have to take care of our business."
Giancola will head to the seeding meeting for the WIAA Division 4 regional today in Colby and he expects Abbotsford to be the No. 1 seed.
"I fully expect us to be the No.2 seed," he said. "No. 1 and No. 2 get a bye and then play 3 and 6. If we got to the regional final, we'll have to go on the road."
Bessemer (12-4, 9-4) hosts Ironwood on Tuesday in another Indianhead Conference game with a 7:15 p.m. tip-off.
The Midgets (15-4, 10-3) travel to Bayfield on Monday for another conference game.
Hurley won the junior varsity game 57-36.
Bessemer - Nick Cossi 9, Ben Zielinski 15, Lance Berwald 13, Zack Mazurek 2, Josh Tomes 4, Jess Mazzon 3. FTs: 11-17. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: none. 3-pointers: Cossi 1, Zielinski 1, Berwald 1.
Hurley - Jake Colassaco 18, Jared Wendt 11, James Sukanen 9, Mark Saari 9, Mitchell Maki 5, Jordan Kolpin 2. FTs: 12-18. Fouls: 14 Fouled out: none. 3-pointers: Wendt 2, Colassaco 2, Mitchell Maki 1.
Bessemer 10 23 29 46
Hurley 16 31 38 54