By RON DEUTER
KINGSFORD - Forest Park, employing a suffocating press on Dollar Bay, was never threatened in a Class D regional semifinal Tuesday evening, rolling to a 56-21 victory at Kingsford High School.
Theresa Proudfit/The Daily News Photo
Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert (22) shoots over Dollar Bay’s Carli Daavettila (21) in a Class D girls basketball regional semifinal Tuesday.
The Lady Trojans (23-0) will face Superior Central (21-2) Thursday back at the Flivver Gymnasium in an attempt for a third straight regional championship. The Cougars were last-second winners over Stephenson in Tuesday's other semifinal, 61-52.
Thursday's game tips-off at 6 p.m. Doors open at 4:45 p.m.
Lexi Gussert led Forest Park with 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a game that the Trojans led 42-4 at half. Most of the second half was played with a running clock, and Gussert's evening was done by the middle of the fourth quarter. She was 6-of-12 from 3-point range.
But it was the defensive domination by the Lady Trojans that was a sight to see, even for Gussert.
"Watching my teammates work so well together, it was awesome," she said. "I have to give credit to so many of them including Mary Grandahl and Sierra Robarge. I don't think I've ever seen Sierra work so hard on that press, getting steals and layups. And Mary, she was so strong tonight, got a ton of rebounds."
Dollar Bay (18-6) wasn't on the scoreboard until a free throw by Megan Kangas with 3:28 to play in the first quarter. The first half's only field goal was a jumper by Alyssa Hakala with 5:30 to play in the second frame.
"I thought we'd be able to up-tempo them," Forest Park coach Jeff Syrjanen said. "We knew No. 20 (Julia Daavettila) was a very nice player. Our focus was trying to take her out of the game."
Forest Park had 13 steals, helping the Bays rack up 21 turnovers. Daavettila was held scoreless, going 0-for-9 from the field.
"Maria Stankewicz, that was her job, to guard Daavettila," Syrjanen said. "She did a tremendous job. Then we had (Kelsi) Hendrickson on her and Abby Nylund. We threw three quick guards on her and it worked. I know we're capable of playing good defense. They were all over the floor. Dollar Bay couldn't get a shot. It's exciting to see we have some quickness out there."
Gussert hit three 3-pointers in the first half. Kendra Campbell and Nylund also hit from deep before halftime. Grandahl finished with six points, as did Robarge.
Kangas' 10 points and 17 rebounds led Dollar Bay, which won its conference and district for the first time in 35 years.
"This was huge to come here, but we didn't come with much poise," Bays head coach Steve Krahling said. "We couldn't hit the broad side of a barn to begin with, just couldn't get a basket to go in."
Krahling called a timeout as the game clock approached the final minute. He wanted to get the Daavettila sisters all on the floor at the same time. So Carli (a sophomore) and Cami (a freshmen) joined their sister Julia (a senior).
"I told them to relax and have fun."
Carli Daavettila nailed a 3-pointer for the game's final points.
For Forest Park, its on to the Cougars.
"It was a good victory for us, but we know it will get tougher now," Syrjanen said. "(Teslyn) Tyner and (Vanessa) Freberg are really nice players."
Forest Park defeated Superior Central in a regional semifinal in 2012. The teams missed each other in last season's regional tournament.
"It will be crazy," Gussert said. "They are a well-coached team. It'll be a fun atmosphere. It's going to be nuts."
A win would send the Lady Trojans to a quarterfinal at neutral site Negaunee or Sault Ste. Marie, giving Gussert at least one more prep game in the U.P.
"It'll be sad," Gussert said of thinking about her final U.P. game. "I don't like to think about it honestly. I know I am going to play basketball in college, but nothing will ever be the same as playing in a small town, where everyone always has your back."
Syrjanen said his team is focused on getting to Lansing, and not worrying about all the extras.
"After getting bumped by St. Ignace last season, having a shot at the semis the year before, this team is focused on getting to Lansing," he said. "All the other things, we have to put them on the side. When it's all said and done, we'll take time to reflect on how wonderful the season has been, no matter how it comes out."
Gussert added that she thinks this year's group can accomplish its goals.
"This is one of the best chances we've ever had," she said. "We have a lot of experience and a ton of confidence."
Forest Park 15 27 11 3 - 56
Dollar Bay 2 2 10 7 - 21
FOREST PARK: Gussert 25, Grandahl 6, Robarge 6, Campbell 5, Stankewicz 4, A. Nylund 3, S. Nylund 2, Hendrickson 2, Isaacson 2, Toivonen 1. FT: 6-10. F: 6.
DOLLAR BAY: Kangas 10, Carli Daavettila 6, Sertich 3, Hakala 2. FT: 4-6. F: 7.
FG shooting - FP: 21-49 (3-pt: 8-18); DB: 7-36 (3-pt: 3-17). 3-pt FGs - FP: Gussert (6), Campbell, A. Nylund; DB: Daavettila (2), Sertich. Rebounding - FP: 36 (Gussert 9); DB: 31 (Kangas 17).