HOUGHTON - A matchup of conference champions is a natural in every respect.
Such was the case Saturday afternoon when Copper Country Conference titleist Lake Linden-Hubbell met Houghton, which has at least a co-championship locked up in the WestPAC.
The two teams battled each other for 32 minutes before the Gremlins emerged with a hard-fought 66-63 victory.
But it didn't come easy for the Orange and Black, who faced a 63-59 deficit with just over two minutes left on the clock.
"We really had to dig deep at the end," HHS coach Jared Lawson said afterward. "Fortunately we made the stops on defense and got the big buckets when we needed them."
Lakes coach Jack Kumpula said his team's youth might have showed up in crunch time.
LL-Hubbell 9 21 19 14 - 63
Houghton 17 12 16 21 - 66
Lake Linden-Hubbell - Tyler Roose 17, Cody Kumpula 2, Cole Beauchamp 3, Konrad Klein 8, Trevor Ongie 10, Trent Ambeuhl 5, Brett Poissant 9, Luke Monette 7, Alex Knight 2. FT: 12-14; Rebounds: 29 (Roose, Klein 8; Fouls: 21; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: Roose 3, Beauchamp 1.
Houghton - Zack Ohtonen 15, Mike Saari 6, Cody Goodreau 11, Elias Lilleskov 6, Trent Keteri 23, Justin Ruotsala 3, Ben Collaer 2; FT: 19-30; Rebounds: 29 (Ohtonen 9); Fouls: 15; Fouled out: None; 3-point FG: Keteri 6.
"We had no discipline at the end," Kumpula noted. "You have a four-point lead with two minutes to play ... you gotta run some clock ... and take good shots. That's our immaturity and it showed up today."
A pair of free throws by Trevor Ongie and a basket by Tyler Roose had given the Blue and Gold their aforementioned lead.
But a clutch triple from Trent Keteri shaved the margin to 63-62 and two free throws by Zack Ohtonen gave Houghton the lead for good at 64-63.
Ohtonen - 13-of-14 from the stripe - netted two more freebies with 20 seconds left and that was enough as the Lakes failed to get off a good shot.
It was a game of runs, HHS mounting the first move when it took a 22-9 lead early in the second quarter.
The Lakes answered right back with a 21-8 blitz to assume a 30-29 margin at intermission.
"Their pressure really bothered us at times," Lawson said. "But then again, our pressure got to them, so it kind of evened out."
Roose, coming off his low point total of the year the night before versus Calumet, nailed a pair of treys in the third stanza. Ongie also chipped in five more points as LL-H grabbed a 49-45 lead after three quarters.
Things looked gloomy for the Orange and Black as the Lakes moved to as much as a seven-point advantage at 58-51 midway through the final quarter.
That was when Keteri stepped up. The junior guard dropped in a pair of three-point baskets to get his team back in the fray.
"Trent has the ability to spot himself up and hit those shots from outside," Lawson said. "When our point guard (Ryan LaBerge) went down, Trent had to go to the point guard. But that No. 2 spot is his best position."
Speaking of LaBerge, the junior shooting ace could be back in the lineup this week when the Gremlins go to Calumet Tuesday for a huge league game.
"We have Calumet Tuesday and then host Marquette Thursday," Lawson commented. "Those are two really big games that could get us ready for the districts."
The 11-6 Gremlins were paced by Keteri's 23-point showing that included six triples.
Ohtonen added 15 points and team-best nine rebounds, while Cody Goodreau was good for 11 points.
LL-H, dropping to 13-5 on the year, received 17 points and eight rebounds from Roose. Ongie put in 10 more points, Brett Poissant netted nine and Konrad Klein was steady with eight points and eight rebounds.
Kumpula knows his team must work out some late-season kinks (3-5 in the last eight games) if it is to put togther a tourney run.
"We play Chassell Tuesday and then Hancock on Friday," he pointed out. "Those two games will test us."
LL-H won the JV game.