ESCANABA - The "B" word swooped around the Escanaba High School gymnasium Tuesday night.
Several well-meaning Munising fans acknowledged their Mustangs ran into a buzzsaw at the Class C regional girls basketball tournament opener.
Otherwise known as the Houghton Gremlins, this buzzsaw dominated and coasted to a 65-36 victory for a berth in Thursday's title game against St. Ignace (22-1) at 7 p.m.
The U.P.-third-ranked Saints beat Iron Mountain 64-48 in the nightcap as sophomore Nicole Elmblad scored 25 points.
Junior guard Taylor Kaurala put on a shooting clinic for the top-ranked Gremlins (23-1), making the rim look as big as Lake Superior the way she unloaded from all angles.
Kaurala scored a career-high 26 points, highlighted by six 3-point baskets. She canned 6-of-9 baskets, but coach Julie Filpus jokingly said she will be more impressed when Kaurala beats her 7-of-8 effort when she played at Wayne State University (1990-94 and scored 1,195 points).
Munising9 5 11 11 - 35
Houghton10 14 20 21 - 65
Munising -Kelto 4, Maxon 6, Way 6, Cook 8, Paquette 3, Hill 1, Tweedale 2, Stasewich 4, Dwight 2. FT: 11-24; F: 21; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goal -Way.
Houghton - Taylor Kaurala 26, Helen Richards 3, Hailee Luke 7, Crane 2, Taylor Dillinger 2, Stephanie Mewbourn 3, Samantha Manderfield 14, Annemarie Gerard 8. FT: 10-17; F: 24; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals - Kaurala 6, Luke.
"She's an outstanding shooter. You can't leave her open," said Filpus. "Taylor has the green light to shoot. If you give her enough warmup shots, she is going to catch fire."
Her scoring was spaced through all four quarters, with two triples in the third and fourth stanzas.
"Coach told me to go out and drill shots," said Kaurala, who said she is always ready to catch a pass as the Gremlins display good ball movement. "I'm a 3-point shooter and my coach sets up plays for me."
The Mustangs (19-4) also had to deal with Michigan Tech recruit Samantha Manderfield, who scored 14 points. They also had trouble with senior Helen Richards, who had nine rebounds and eight assists while playing strong defense.
Manderfield also drew the brunt of handling Munising junior scoring leader Amanda Maxon, who was held to six points.
"We put our best defender on her. We want to shut everybody down," said Filpus.
"Their man-to-man defense is so intense," said Munising coach Don Johnson, noting the help defense was impressive. "They knew who our scorers are. Whoever got the ball, they lock down."
The Mustangs hit just 12-of-42 field goals. Junior Emily Cook had eight points and 13 rebounds.
The Gremlins, who made 24-of-44 shots, scored the final five points of the first half for a 24-14 lead, then used two Kaurala triples and one by Hailee Luke to expand the lead to 40-18 late in the third quarter.
"Early in the game we were aggressive inside and did what we wanted to do," said Johnson. "Everything kind of snowballs against a team like this and it is hard to stem the tide when they get going."
Johnson hopes his Mid-Peninsula Conference champion Mustangs can take some positive lessons out of this loss, especially since he had seven juniors and six sophomores at the game with just two seniors.
"We've really had a pretty good year. We have good potential for next year," he said. "Hopefully we learned from this experience and we take from this game the things you need to do and keep advancing."
Munising was excited about the tourney appearance, with two adults and five track team members dribbling a basketball the 62 miles to Escanaba.
The Gremlins, who have been to 10 straight regionals, know they are in for a major challenge from St. Ignace.
"We have to come out and play like that tomorrow (Thursday), play good defense and have good ball movement," said Kaurala.