MENOMINEE - Tears of relief and joy welled up in the eyes of Allia Stewart as she
walked to the free-throw line Friday night.
Four seconds later Stewart and her teammates converged a jubilant group hug after stunning Houghton 48-39 in the Class B district title game.
"We've been a team for so long. We've been together since the fourth grade," said Stewart. "There have been high expectations on us. Last year was disappointing. We all wanted it and we did it tonight."
The Maroon seniors were not going to walk off their home floor without the district trophy. Menominee dug in an fought off a fierce comeback by the Gremlins (19-3), who had reeled off 14 straight district championships, the longest current streak in the state.
"It's a great thing as a coach to see your athletes succeed," coach Lucas Chouinard said. "I can't say enough about these girls. The theme in practice has always been about team. Work hard for your teammates and love your teammates."
Houghton 4 12 15 8 - 39
Menominee 16 7 10 15 - 48
Houghton - Kero 6, Dillinger 9, Richards 6, Jurmu 15, Rynnanen 3; FG: 8-14 F: 15
Menominee - Simmons 4, Owens 6, Stewart 15, Anderla 6, Pedersen 17. FT: 12-17 F: 14.
The Maroons held Houghton without a field goal in the first quarter while blasting out to a 16-4 lead.
Amanda Pedersen got inside position on the Gremlins and used a soft shooting touch to pop in 10 points in the first period.
"Part of our rough start was Pedersen's work on the blocks," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said. "She was a load for us. Their post game hurt us tonight."
The Maroons slowed the Gremlins' bread-and-butter transition game to a crawl.
The Gremlins missed all six of their 3-point tries during a 4-of-20 struggle in the first half but forced the Maroons into six turnovers in the second period to cut the margin to 23-16.
Steals by Stewart and Maddy Anderla help charge a 10-0 Menominee spurt in the third quarter. Pedersen ripped down an offensive rebound for a putback to push the Maroon lead to 31-17 with 4:20 left.
The Gremlin defense rose up to force five more turnovers and Houghton finally got into its rhythm on offense. Sydney Dillinger snapped the 3-point slump with a laser from the right baseline to ignite a game-turning 20-2 run.
Dillinger's hustle on the offensive glass kept reloading the Gremlins' attack. The Gremlins climbed out of the deep early hole when Ashlyn Kero buried a 3-pointer from the wing and Dillinger converted a three-point play to give Houghton a 37-33 lead with 6:24 left in the game.
With the Gremlin fans up and cheering and Houghton brimming with confidence, the Maroons turned the comeback to ice with their half-court defense and poise on offense.
Stewart was ice on the line as she sank nine straight free throws.
Stewart had a string of 15 straight free throws stretching back to the district win over Gladstone.
"When it's crunch time, I just block out everything else," she explained.
Houghton connected on just one of five shots after claiming the lead.
"When we got the four-point lead, we had a couple of poor defensive possessions," said Filpus. "That Menominee team is physical and strong. They outplayed us."
Pedersen led the Maroons with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Stewart finished with 15 points, highlighted by a 9-of-10 night at the line. She added three steals and broke the Gremlin press.
Amanda Simmons had five rebounds and Maddy Anderla had four assists.
"When we watched film, I thought we could work the inside pretty well," said Chouinard. "We did exactly what we thought we could do. We knew they would get on a run. I told the girls to stick with our game plan and be strong with the ball and they did that. Since the start of districts they've been really focused and really dialed in."
Elisa Jurmu led the Gremlins with 15 points and Dillinger added nine points.
"It will take time, but the kids will accept it," Filpus said of the end of the district title streak. "We had a great team this year. Hopefully, this will make our 2014-15 team even stronger."