HOUGHTON - Wrapping up another sterling regular season, it was a classic Houghton girls basketball performance Monday night.
Pressuring man-to-man defense and a breakneck-paced offense ran the Gremlins' rivals across the bridge out of the gym for a 69-36 final.
Hancock put together a strong opening salvo to take a 17-16 lead after one quarter, but Houghton ran off 27 unanswered points on the strength of a full-court man-to-man press to close out the Bulldogs and the schedule with an 18-2 record.
Houghton’s Noelle Polakowski drives to the basket during the first half of Monday’s game against Hancock. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"After the first quarter, we pretty much just ramped up the pressure and ramped up the intensity," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said. "When we decided to pick them up fullcourt we created some easy scoring opportunities. It just helped us focus.
"This isn't the first game a blitz of full-court pressure has helped us."
Houghton closed out the second quarter with a 21-0 run to turn a three-point deficit into a 16-point halftime lead.
Hancock 17 4 9 6 - 36
Houghton 16 23 14 16 - 69
Hancock - Molly Berg 3, Quincy Lorenzetti 5, Mackenzie Brunet 1, Kirsten Berg 2, Madisyn Wright 2, Taylor Pertile 3, Laura Berg 3, Taylor Mattson 7, Lily Williams 10. FTs: 9-13; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: M. Berg 1, Lorenzetti 1, L. Berg 1, L. Williams 2.
Houghton - Noelle Polakowski 2, Alexa Johnson 8, Natalie Datto 2, Ashley Laux 10, Blaire Zenner 4, Ashlyn Kero 2, Kelsie Richards 12, Elisa Jurmu 12, Sydney Dillinger 17; FTs: 7-10; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: Jade Riutta; 3-point field goals: Richards 2.
The Gremlins kept rolling from there, getting double-digit scoring games from four different players as steals led to layups time and time again.
"We did a good job taking care of the ball in the first quarter which led to some open looks," Hancock head coach Jack Johnson said. "But in the second quarter Houghton picked up the pressure and we just got rattled. The wheels just kind of fell off then.
"We are not assertive enough yet, with some younger girls on the team who have to figure out how to step up when needed."
Not only were the Gremlins able to press the Bulldogs successfully, Houghton handled Hancock's ensuing zone-trap with ease.
Somewhat counterintuitively, Houghton relied on just two guards to break through a three-man trap, leaving a hockey-like odd-man rush when the ball successfully crossed halfcourt. Point guards Ashlyn Kero and Sydney Dillinger successfully split double teams with Elisa Jurmu (12 points), Ashley Laux (10 points) and Kelsie Richards (12 points) often the beneficiaries at the rim.
"We feel like we have some strong ball-handling and that (Dillinger) and (Kero) make some good decisions when they catch the inbounds pass," Filpus said. "We were able to pass it over the top which created 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s."
For the first time this season, it was the sophomore Dillinger leading all scorers as she finished with a career-high 17 points.
Dillinger utilized her superior length to convert shots at the rim - including the occasional post-up - over the smaller Hancock guards.
It was a welcome sight for Filpus who has been trying to coax a more aggressive mentality from Dillinger for most of the season.
"We have been on her all season about becoming a more aggressive offensive player," Filpus said. "Hopefully this is just the start of things to come for her."