HANCOCK - Like one might have to do to drive to Houghton High School in February, its boys' basketball team had to downshift to a lower gear, but it's almost to the top of the WestPAC hill.
Houghton clinched a share of its first WestPAC title since 2010 Friday with a hard-fought 40-33 win at Hancock as part of the annual Wing Ding festivities.
"This was the first goal to get and we got it. It's emotional for me since we're coming down to the last few games of our senior season. It was fun. Big win," Houghton senior Cody Goodreau said.
Houghton’s Eli Lilleskov, left, and Cody Goodreau close out on a jump shot attempted by Hancock’s Alex Almquist in the second half of Friday’s Wing Ding game in Hancock. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
The Gremlins (9-3, 6-1 WestPAC) came agonizingly close to taking the whole thing in one night, but West Iron County, a comeback winner over Calumet Friday, can still split the league title if it wins its two remaining league games and Houghton loses at Calumet Feb. 26.
Houghton got off to a poor start offensively, making just four first-half field goals and recording seven points in the game's first 14 minutes.
"First half, for whatever reason, we couldn't get it set up. It was really loud in here, we had some miscommunication. We had some guys running one offense, some guys running another. When we got time to go into the locker room, break it down and talk about where we wanted positions and we kept going back to that offense the entire second half because it exposed the middle on their zone," Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.
Houghton 6 4 12 18 - 40
Hancock 3 12 6 12 - 33
Houghton - Trent Keteri 17, Cody Goodreau 11, Zack Ohtonen 5, Mike Saari 5, Eli Lilleskov 2; FT: 13-18; Fouls: 15; Fouled out: Ben Collaer; 3-point field goals: Keteri 2, Saari 1.
Hancock - Alex Almquist 15, Shane Raasio 8, Brian Kass 6, Riley Engman 4; FT: 1-5; Fouls: 15; Fouled out: Raasio; 3-point field goals: none.
Goodreau kick-started the Gremlins in the second half, scoring nine of his 11 points in the third quarter on several aggressive plays on the interior as his team quickly got back on even terms.
"One thing we've been talking to with Cody is continue to be aggressive and attack the basket. He did a great job of that tonight. He just really felt it there in the second half and felt that it was kind of his turn to put his team on his back," Lawson said.
The game was tied at 29 with three minutes to go and a down-to-the-wire finish like the teams' first meeting (Houghton 47-44 at Houghton Dec. 13) looked inevitable, but the Gremlins got the necessary stops and free throws down the stretch to make an 11-2 run before a meaningless Bulldog bucket at the buzzer.
"We had potentially some opportunities for some good looks, but we tried to force a few things. If we were a little more patient, we could've been right there and it could've been a last-second game," Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg said.
Lawson put the athletic Goodreau onto Hancock center Alex Almquist down the stretch and it made a difference.
"Because of that switch, he had that quickness to try and get around any entry passes coming to (Almquist). It kind of forced them to kind of run their offense a little bit more on the outside," Lawson said.
Almquist finished with 15 points to lead Hancock, but did not score after his 18-footer tied the game for the final time with 4:51 to play.
Trent Keteri's three from the left corner gave Houghton the lead with 2:50 to go. He added a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game with 1:11 left, but Riley Engman went coast-to-coast for a lay-up seconds later.
Houghton then went 6-for-8 on four trips to the line, while Hancock could not score.
"(In the first half) We were patient, we spread it out, we took our time, we made some ball reversals. I thought in the second half we want back to what wasn't working, which was trying to hurry, just one pass and a shot and trying to do too much individually," Wittenberg said.
Keteri's 17 points led all scorers. The Gremlins, who won the JV game 44-20, play at Lake Linden-Hubbell Tuesday.
Hancock (8-7, 2-4 WestPAC) is at Dollar Bay Tuesday night.
On March 6, both teams will be at L'Anse, playing each other in a Class C district semifinal.
"It's an opportunity to make up for these losses," Wittenberg said. "We all know it's tough to beat a team three times in a season, but at the same time, it can be done. We've got to be prepared."