Kingsford rallies past Houghton

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton's Ben Strong readies to shoot during the first quarter of a game against Kingsford Monday at the Houghton Gym.

HOUGHTON — For the Kingsford Flivvers, the 2016-17 season has been a long one that, after 16 minutes, appeared to be ending mercifully at the hands of the host Houghton Gremlins in the opening game of the District 64 Tournament Monday in Houghton.

Instead, junior Chase Kreski drove the Flivvers with 16 of his 19 points in the third quarter, helping lift Kingsford to a 63-55 win over the Gremlins.

“Chase Kreski was awesome for us,” said Flivvers coach Dan Olkkonen. “He had 16 in the third quarter, that’s awesome. The thing with Chase, he’s so athletic. [Monday] his shot was just on. We rode the wave.”

The Flivvers (2-17) had not won a game since a 37-32 victory on Dec. 15 against Westwood. Earning the victory validated what Olkkonen feels is one of his closest teams he has ever coached.

“It had been a long time to get a win for us,” said Olkkonen. “To be 1-0 here in the tournament has us feeling good. We are happy to practice.

“We had nothing to lose… We are really happy with the outcome. That locker room was pretty phenomenal after the game.”

The Gremlins did not make it easy.

Freshman Bradley Sirard scored 18 points, including 13 in the first half. The youngster took advantage of the fast break off of Flivvers’ turnovers and missed shots to help the Gremlins put up 26 points in the second quarter.

Despite the youngster’s strong night, empty possessions haunted Houghton (5-14) again.

“That is something that has been an Achilles heel for us, empty possessions with no shots,” said Gremlins coach Jared Lawson. “Then they come down and inch closer to our lead and eventually take over. A lot of it has to do with empty possessions.”

Added to Sirard’s strong night, senior Nick Wilson was hot in the second half, finishing with 21 points in the final game of his high school career.

“When he looks back on this in a couple of weeks, he’ll know he went out giving it everything he had,” said Lawson. “As we got into the fourth quarter, he was the one guy we kept going to.”

Kingsford sophomore Tyler Beauchamp opened the game with a 3 and a layup off an inbounds play to jump out to the early 5-0 lead. The Flivvers pushed that lead to nine before Gremlins senior Ben Strong finally got his team on the board with a jump shot with just 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the opening quarter.

The Flivvers held a 14-7 advantage heading into the second quarter, but the Gremlins put together what Olkkonen referred to as a “gimmick” defense, and that helped them slow down the Kingsford attack.

“They ran a little gimmick defense with the triangle-and-two, on our two top scorers” said Olkkonen. “What a good plan.”

Coupled with tighter defense, Sirard caught fire for the Gremlins by taking advantage of Flivvers’ misses and turning them into points for Houghton at the other end of the floor quickly. He hit his first 3 of the night 2:29 into the quarter, trimming Kingsford’s lead to 16-14.

On the next possession, he went to the line and hit both free throws, evening the game. Less than a minute later, he hit another 3 to even the game at 21. Then, after a Kingsford miss, he ran the floor for a layup to give the Gremlins their first lead of the night with 3:53 left in the half.

Sirard added one more layup as the Gremlins jumped ahead by eight, but the Flivvers stormed back with junior Liam Gayan picking up two layups sandwiched around a 3 from Beauchamp to pull the Flivvers to 31-30.

Stong hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to put Houghton up by three at the half. Sirard then hit his third 3 of the night from beyond the arc to extend that lead to six and the Gremlins appeared to be in control.

That was when Beauchamp shut down Sirard defensively, and Kreski got hot offensively for Kingsford.

Kreski made four straight shots and suddenly the Flivvers led 39-36. He went on to add a layup, a 3 from the top of the key and a layup in the final seconds of the quarter to put Kingsford firmly in the driver’s seat, 52-44.

Wilson did the best he could to keep the Gremlins within striking distance, scoring seven of his game-high 21 points, but it was not enough to shave anything off of the Flivvers’ lead.

Kingsford will host Menominee on Wednesday.

Kingsford 14 16 22 11 – 63

Houghton 7 26 11 11 – 55

KHS: Kreski 19, Beauchamp 12, Cootware 9, Terrian 6, Gayan 6, Fayas 5, Roberts 4, Rutter 2; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Kreski 3, Beauchamp 2, Fayas 1

HHS: Wilson 21, Sirard 18, Strong 11, Filpus 7; Fouls: 15; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Sirard 3, Wilson 2