Houghton tops L’Anse 46-31 to win 4th consecutive district title

The Houghton Gremlins with the Class C District 96 trophy after defeating L’Anse 46-31 Wednesday in L’Anse. (Eden Laase/Daily Mining Gazette)

L’ANSE — Slow and steady wins the race: It’s an old fable, turned mantra that parents teach kids. And while its plausibility when applied to an actual race seems slim, the philosophy worked well for the Houghton Gremlins as they defeated L’Anse 46-31 for their fourth straight district title on Wednesday in L’Anse.

L’Anse didn’t exactly play the part of the hare, but Houghton adopted the tortoise’s mentality.

The Gremlins never went on a big run, but they were steady throughout the second half, slowly building a lead.

There were Harlee Froberg free throws, Kara Pietila post-ups, Mackenzie Klein putbacks, and on and on until the buzzer sounded.

But when Houghton walked off the court, apart from a few hugs and the occasional smile, it didn’t even appear that the team had won anything, let alone a district title.

Houghton’s Kara Pietila gathers for a shot as L’Anse’s Taylor Brown, right, and Natalie Swanson defend Wednesday in L’Anse. (Eden Laase/Daily Mining Gazette)

Finally, Julie Filpus yelled to her squad, “Come on and celebrate!”

That got a few more smiles, but overall the Gremlins remained stoic. It’s part of that tortoise mentality: they are levelheaded on the court, and levelheaded with their reactions.

“They are just such a steady team. About the most emotion we showed was when Mackenzie Klein got an offensive rebound and putback in the second half, which was fun to see,” Filpus said. “But there is something to be said for being a steady, solid, mentally-tough team.”

Despite their nonchalance, Filpus says winning district titles hasn’t lost its charm, no matter how many they win in a row.

“It never gets old,” she said. “Watching the process unfold over the season is very rewarding.”

At halftime, L’Anse held a 20-17 advantage. Houghton had jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first quarter, but L’Anse eventually figured out the Gremlins’ trapping 2-3 defense. The Purple Hornets drove baseline and made backdoor cuts to storm back and take the lead at the break.

“At halftime, we just talked about how we needed to hit our shots and lock down on defense and then push,” Pietila said. “We needed to get a lead and then push that lead.”

In the first half, the Gremlins allowed L’Anse to speed up their offense, creating turnovers or leading to poor shot selection. Houghton didn’t make a 3-pointer in the first half, though the team attempted plenty.

When the Gremlins went to the locker room, they knew they had to make changes. And they did, because that’s what steady teams do.

Finally, to close the third quarter, Madi Dillinger and Cassie Ryynanen drilled back-to-back corner 3s to give Houghton a 31-25 lead. The Gremlins broke their long-range slump, but they only hit three 3s all game. Instead, they got a handle on L’Anse by using their size advantage. Houghton was patient in their offense, waiting for the best chance to score, and when it came the Gremlins capitalized. They ran multiple people in the post, but Pietila did the most damage, shooting mid-range shots at the high post and creating offense on the low block. She finished with 17 points.

“We tried to get the girls to understand that 3-pointers are available at any time,” Filpus said. “Against a zone, we want to pick it apart, get the ball inside and see if we can get some action down low, some inside-out 3s, and they were very patient with that in the second half.”

As Houghton unraveled L’Anse’s defense, possession by possession, L’Anse coach Scott Lloyd wanted to switch things up but feared changing defenses would only make things worse.

“Both our point guards got in foul trouble, and one of them fouled out,” he said. “We were already in foul trouble and we generally aren’t a good man team, especially when there are five good ball handlers on the court that can make you pay. So as much as I wanted to switch to man, I knew we couldn’t.”

While L’Anse struggled in its zone, the Gremlins began to excel in theirs. Early in the game, the Purple Hornets attacked the basket at will, but in the second half Houghton cut off driving lanes.

“It is a mindset,” Flipus said. “When they set their minds to it, they are as good at defense as anyone. There was a period in the third quarter where Cassie (Rynnanen) and Madi (Dillinger) were just on it with help defense and funneling drivers to the baseline.”

Kailyn Voskuhl led L’Anse with 11 points, while Houghton kept all other scorers to single digits.

– – –

Houghton 6 11 14 15 — 46

L’Anse 2 18 5 6 — 31

Houghton — Dillinger 5, Pietila 17, Ryynanen 3, Klein 6, Monette 6, Froberg 9. F: 13. Fouled out: None. Free throws: 13-24. 3-point field goals: Dillinger, Ryynanen, Froberg.

L’Anse — Mattson 3, Dix 8, M. Rice 4, Voskuhl 11, Brown 2, J. Rice 3. F: 21. Fouled out: M. Rice. Free throws: 4-6. 3-point field goals: Voskuhl.