HOUGHTON - The Houghton girls' basketball team had an answer for every question Escanaba posed Wednesday night.
The Eskymos tried a 3-2 zone, a box-and-one on WestPAC Player of the Year Elisa Jurmu and finally, traditional man-to-man defense.
None of it made a difference. The Gremlins ran through and around the Escanaba defense, to open the Class B district tournament with a 70-46 semifinal victory.
Sydney Dillinger of Houghton attacks the basket during the first half of Wednesday’s Class B?district semifinal against Escanaba at Houghton High School. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Houghton got 20 points from Kelsie Richards, 16 from Elisa Jurmu and 13 from Ashlyn Kero all while compiling 22 fast-break points as their trademark breakneck pace was too much for the visitors to handle.
"One of our main points in our pregame was to push the ball, and I thought we got some big transition points tonight," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said. "We got the pace in our favor."
Houghton jumped out to a 22-9 lead in the first quarter, as Jurmu slashed her way for 10 points against the 3-2 zone.
Escanaba 9 13 10 14 - 46
Houghton 22 12 21 15 - 70
Escanaba - Michelle LaFave 15, Lynsey Collins 16, Samantha Connor 5, Tara Strahl 4, Ashley Cook 3, Mary Houle 2; FTs: 11-15; 3-point field goals: none.
Houghton - Elisa Jurmu 16, Kelsie Richards 20, Ashlyn Kero 13, Sydney Dillinger 5, Noelle Polakowski 6, Michelle Laux 2, Morgan Farrell 3, Sloane Zenner 4; FTs: 5-8; 3-point field goals: Kero 3, Richards 3, Farrell 1.
When the visitors switched to a box-and-one, Richards stepped up, knocking down two threes in the first half to go with 15 points as the Gremlins built a 34-22 halftime lead.
"We have made strides all season with ball movement, and we did a nice job moving the ball around and finding the right shot," Filpus said.
"The seniors really did the job tonight," Filpus added of the Richards, Jurmu, Kero trio.
A 9-0 run in the middle of the third quarter sealed the game for Houghton, with Kero and Richards each knocking down a three to give Houghton a 20-point lead.
The Gremlins knocked down seven three-pointers in total Wednesday night, stretching Escanaba's defense to the breaking point.
"Escanaba has some nice size - as will a lot of the teams we will see in Class B - so we need to connect from the perimeter," Filpus said. "Ashlyn had three threes and Richards had three threes and those really spread the defense out."
Escanaba went full-tilt after that, throwing bodies forward to get some fast break layups of their own, but giving up offensive rebounds and easy transition buckets when Houghton stayed disciplined.
Houghton led 55-32 at the end of the third quarter and was able to get some freshman valuable playoff experience in the fourth quarter as a result.
Escanaba star center Michelle LaFave managed 15 points Wednesday, but had just two in the first quarter as Houghton jumped to a lead they would never relinquish.
Sydney Dillinger drew the task of guarding the skilled 6-footer, drawing rave reviews from Filpus for her defensive effort.
"Syd can keep her away from the rim, and in turn we don't require as much help defense and we keep our shape defensively," Filpus said.
Escanaba coach Dena Fedell expressed no dismay about Houghton's move from Class C to Class B this year.
Bring them on in next year's playoffs, she said.
"Playing against good teams only makes us better," Fedell said. "I'd rather be playing against a good team like Houghton coming up to Class B."