CALUMET - It felt like the second chapter of a trilogy: Well-known characters locked in familiar struggle with just enough loose ends to build one more chapter.
Though L'Anse, Hancock and Ironwood will have something to say about that in the Class C district tournament, Houghton's 64-62 win over Calumet was a classic in its own right and will leave at least one side wanting more.
"I told them how proud I was of them, that we left everything on the floor, and now we know that we can do it. We know we can do it. We're that close. We're one basket away," Calumet coach Don Hill said.
Houghton’s Sydney Dillinger collides with Calumet’s Meghan Westcott in the post in the first half of Thursday’s game at Calumet. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
The one basket that separated the teams on Valentine's Mass-a-Cure night was actually two: a pair of free throws made by Houghton's Kelsie Richards after she drew a foul with 0.3 seconds left in regulation.
A pair of free throws on the other end, from Calumet's Lexie Rowe, tied the game at 62 with 14.6 to play. With about six seconds left, coach Julie Filpus drew up a play designed to get Richards the ball on the block. The junior got the pass and turned toward the outstretched arms of Calumet's Terilynne Budreau. The whistle blew and Richards converted without missing a beat.
"Those are big free throws to win the game. We certainly didn't want overtime with this team. It was a good pressure situation for her and she delivered," Filpus said.
Houghton 18 19 15 12 - 64
Calumet 27 12 7 16 - 62
Houghton - Blaire Zenner 19, Elisa Jurmu 13, Natalie Datto 10, Kelsie Richards 9, Alexa Johnson 9, Sydney Dillinger 4; FT: 22-26; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Johnson 1, Datto 1.Calumet - Lexie Rowe 16, Kristy Lasanen 14, Terilynne Budreau 11, Clara Loukus 11, Tristan Baranowski 4, Terra Erkkila 2, Katie Djerf 2, Abby Bjorn 2; FT: 17-21; Fouls: 22; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Loukus 3, Lasanen 3, Budreau 1.
The stakes were as big as they get in the regular season: Houghton (17-1, 6-1 WestPAC), with the victory, clinches a share of the WestPAC title for the 13th year in a row and successfully defended its No. 1 rank in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Class ABC girls' basketball poll for the first time against a Calumet (13-3, 5-2 WestPAC) team that proved more than qualified for its No. 3 spot.
"The bottom line is we came into the No. 3 team in the U.P. We faced a tough battle from them and we came out on the top side. The other side of the coin says we'd better ratchet up the defensive intensity as well," Filpus said.
Calumet put as good a scare as anyone has since the Gremlins lost their only game of the season thus far in December at L'Anse, shredding the Houghton defense for 27 first-quarter points with four three-pointers in a first-half filled with accurate shooting and brilliant pace on both sides.
The Kings got two treys apiece in the first period from senior Kristy Lasanen and freshman Clara Loukus. Though they passed Houghton's per-game points against average (36.7) with 3:34 left in the first half, the most points they scored without a Gremlin reply was seven and the biggest lead they held was 10 despite shooting 12-for-28 (42.8 percent) from the field and 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from three.
The first half had a lot of points and a lot of contact. Calumet committed 14 first-half fouls, and the Gremlins shot themselves back toward even terms from the free-throw line, where they were 15-for-17 before half, including a 9-for-10 stretch that helped them close to within 39-37 at the break. Hill called it "the biggest part of the game."
"We've got to do a better job of not sending a team that's that good at the free throw line there that often," he said.
In the second, the Gremlins had their turn to explode, going on a 15-2 run for the first 7 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. They were up as much as 11 before Lasanen drilled a three, then drew a foul on a desperation heave at the buzzer and made two of three shots.
Calumet slowly tilted the game back to even with the help of Budreau's adept post moves and a series of go-for-broke drives from Rowe. She'd turned the corner with an eye on the game-tying bucket when Richards fouled her from behind, setting up the concluding drama.
"Good things happen for us when we attack the basket. TL (Budreau) had a couple big shots in the post for us to crawl us back in and Lexie attacking it again and getting to the free throw line. Her ability to get into the paint is as good as anybody in this league," Hill said.
The Gremlins got another huge game from Blaire Zenner, who had her second straight double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds), her third straight career scoring high and is averaging nearly 13 points in her last five games. It helped Houghton compensate for the heavy defensive attention placed on Elisa Jurmu, who added 13 points.
"We knew we couldn't do it in a few possessions," Jurmu said of Houghton getting back from 10 points down. "We had to do it patiently on offense, get some stops on defense and slowly get back into it."
Rowe led the Copper Kings with 16 points, with Lasanen scoring 14 and Budreau and Loukus 11 apiece in the first time all season Calumet put four players in double figures.
"It's momentum. We had a run in the first quarter, they had a run in the third quarter. I don't think it's anything we were doing right or wrong. We didn't knock down shots. They had a run and they're going to. They're the No. 1 team in the U.P. for a reason, they're good," Hill said.
Calumet finishes its WestPAC slate with a trip to West Iron County Thursday.
Houghton, having defeated the U.P.'s No. 3 team, faces another tangle with No. 2 Marquette Thursday night in the Redettes' gym before it can clinch sole possession of the league next Monday with a home win over Hancock, followed by the district tournament beginning Feb. 25 in Houghton.
To be continued?