James' fourth-quarter surge leads Oconto

Oconto's Laken James drives to the basket against Peshtigo during their game, Jan. 20, 2014.
Oconto's Laken James drives to the basket against Peshtigo during their game, Jan. 20, 2014.
PESHTIGO — After watching his team pull out a 37-22 win over Peshtigo on Monday night Oconto girls basketball coach Russ Young said, “It’s good to have No. 5 on your side.”

For those who don’t know who “No. 5” is that would be Laken James.

The senior point guard overcame a twisted ankle and did what elite players do when their team is being tested, they respond. Clinging to a 25-22 lead after three quarters, James scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter and that was all the Blue Devils needed in handing the Bulldogs their second loss of the season, 37-22.

James, a Green Bay recruit, finished with 25 points as Oconto outscored Peshtigo, 12-0, in the final quarter.

“You could see that we needed to get something going,” said James, who’s averaging 26 points per game in her last three contests. “They just got hot there in the third. They got close. My teammates did a nice job of making things happen and creating, spreading out the floor and making things available.”

Oconto appeared in charge as the Bulldogs (9-2) trailed 25-15 in the third quarter but then they scored seven straight points to finish the third quarter. While Peshtigo made a run, James was spreading the ball around.

James then decided to take matters into her own hands. Early in the fourth on a drive to the basket she was fouled and appeared to twist her ankle, but she didn’t leave the game and that spelled bad news for Peshtigo.

Not knowing how injured James was, Young ran a set to see how James was moving. After a while it was obvious she was fine, so she went to work.

“We just wanted to make sure,” Young said. “When you have her on your side, it’s a good feeling.”

Oconto (9-2) is feeling good, but the Blue Devils know there is more to do this regular season. Oconto has designs on at least sharing the Packerland Conference title with Algoma, which has had a stranglehold on the conference, and they next meet Feb. 18 at Oconto.

In the first game, Algoma raced out to a 17-3 lead and won 58-43.

“They jumped on us early in the first game and then we played with them,” Young said. “You can’t fall behind early like that against a team like that.”

James said the players need to overcome a mental hurdle.

“What we need to do with Algoma is come out with a lot of confidence,” she said. “I think it’s in a lot of the girls’ heads, 'It’s Algoma.' No, we have to come out, play strong, play with confidence and want to win.”

Monday’s win should help the team’s confidence as Peshtigo entered the game with one loss this season.

“It feels really good to get a win,” James said. “There was a lot of hype on this game, they were 9-1.”

Oconto has another test Friday at Southern Door, which is in third place in the Packerland, one game behind Oconto. This will just be the third game this month for the Blue Devils, who have had games postponed by weather.

James reminded her teammates Monday to not start sluggish.

“It’s actually really tough (not playing much),” James said. “I told the girls at the beginning of the game try to get going as soon as you can, that’s hard. We had a week and a half without a game. We did a nice job of adjusting to that.”

  • Notes: Peshtigo scored 11 points in the first half and 11 in the third quarter and none in the fourth. … The 22 points were the second-fewest allowed by Oconto this season and a season-low for Peshtigo. … The 37 points scored by Oconto were the second-fewest this season.

  • Game ball: James, who took over when the game was on the line.

  • Numbers game: 3 Straight games James has scored at least 25 points.

Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay