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Houghton claims West-PAC title with 58-36 win over Calumet

Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton’s Sloane Zenner goes up for a layup as Calumet’s Celia Kiilunen gives chase Monday in Calumet.

CALUMET — With their wealth of experience and athleticism, the Houghton Gremlins came into the season as one of the most highly touted teams in the U.P. And night in and night out, they’ve appeared worthy of such praise, overwhelming their opponents with the qualities that hyped them up. 

On Monday, the Gremlins continued to roll and earned their first major achievement of the season, capturing the West-PAC regular season championship with a 58-36 win over the Calumet Copper Kings Monday in Calumet.

The conference title is Houghton’s 17th in the last 18 years after Calumet ended Houghton’s streak last season. So with the conference title returning to Houghton, Houghton head coach Julie Filpus admits this championship feels different from the rest.

“It’s something that we take pride in as a program that we work for,” Filpus said. “I’m happy for the girls and how they accomplished it.”

Offensively, senior Sloane Zenner led the way, scoring 25 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. Her career point total now stands at 999. 

Zenner also played an integral role in limiting Calumet’s inside presence by fronting Calumet senior Hailey Wickstrom. Calumet’s 6-foot-3 center managed to record a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, but for the most part, Houghton utilized textbook ball pressure and fronting to deny post entrances to Wickstrom for much of the night.

Calumet shot just 15 of 41 (36 percent) and committed 23 turnovers. 

“They’re unbelievably long,” Calumet head coach Jeff Twardzik said of Houghton (18-0, 7-0). “If you don’t have the perfect angle to (get it in) the post, it’s not going in. 

“Even though it looks like you can loop it into Hailey, you can’t do it against them. You have to be on the 45-degree angle on the edge to even have a prayer, and it’s hard to get it inside.”

Defensively, Calumet (11-5, 5-2) came out in a 2-3 zone that featured trapping principles. It took a moment for Houghton to adjust, committing three turnovers early on; however, the Gremlins managed to work the ball around and shoot 8 of 13 in the first (62 percent) for a 20-11 lead after the opening quarter.

Houghton finished the game 22 of 46 from the field (48 percent) and held a 28-22 rebounding advantage.

“Probably more surprising was the trapping (Calumet) did at the top of the zone,” Filpus said. “It took us a while to adjust; they forced us into some turnovers, but we figured out how to score.”

Early on, Zenner relentlessly attacked Calumet’s defense in transition while also having her midrange game working. She managed to knock down a 3 for a 31-18 lead in the second quarter before Calumet sophomore Celia Kiilunen swished a 3 from the left wing to cut Houghton’s halftime lead to 31-21.

Zenner shot 9 of 16 from the field and was a perfect 6 for 6 at the free-throw line.

“Our kids need to be basketball players, and we tell them that. There were times when Sloane went from the outside, times she went for the midrange jump-shot and knocked it down, and she took it to the rim,” Filpus said. “She’s hard to guard in that aspect because she’s so multidimensional.”

Before the rout was on, Calumet kept it close, trailing just 33-28 after Wickstrom scored off a pick-and-roll assist from junior Niina Anderson midway through the third quarter. However, Houghton shut the door after that, surrendering just eight more points the rest of the way and outscoring the Copper Kings 25-8 to close the game.

“I thought we competed and were there,” Twardzik said. “I’ve seen Houghton play a couple times this season and that’s the best they’ve played right there. Hats off. They put a great game together. Sloane played out of her mind. They’re just a really good basketball team. 

“To even hang around with them, even in the beginning of the second half when we dropped it to five, I figured we just had to keep it there. They just went on that big burst.”

Zenner entered the night needing 26 points to reach the 1,000-point mark. With 13.3 seconds left, she swished two free throws to a loud ovation of Houghton fans who believed she reached the milestone but instead, was a point short. Filpus decided to sub out Zenner while she was at 999 points.

“Sloane’s minutes have been way down this year and she deserves the opportunity to hit this milestone,” Filpus said. “You hate to see a kid hammered in the end and get hurt, so we had to get her out.”

Zenner will look for her thousandth point Thursday in Marquette. 

For Calumet, they host West Iron County on Thursday.

Houghton 20 11 14 13 — 58

Calumet 11 10 11 4 — 36

Houghton — Dillinger 12, Ryynanen 11, Zenner 25, Kendra Monette 4, Pietila 6. F: 8; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 11-13; 3-point field goals: Dillinger, Ryynanen, Zenner. 

Calumet — Anderson 4, Johnson 6, Kiilunen 5, Kariniemi 10, Wickstrom 11. F: 9; Fouled out: None; free throws: 4-5; 3-point field goals: Kariniemi, Kiilunen.