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Bulldogs girls earn victory over Gremlins

Hancock’s Sadie Biekkola (14), Ella Storm (11), Josie Hembroff (1), Brielle Kero (22), and Kay Pietila (15) huddle prior to a game against Houghton Monday at the Hancock Gym. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — With 23.8 seconds left in a game between the Hancock Bulldogs girls basketball team and the Houghton Gremlins at the Hancock Gym, the Gremlins trailed by two, 34-32, as sophomore Jacey Sleeman fouled out with her fourth foul of the fourth quarter. Bulldogs senior Ella Storm made both free throws, turning the game into a two-possession one with time running out.

Houghton got the ball in the hands of their leading scorer, Eva Gerard, in the paint. However, Gerard was rushed and she missed a short shot that gave the ball back to the Bulldogs (8-10 overall).

Storm ran back down the floor with the ball, drawing another foul in the process. She made both free throws again and the Bulldogs emerged with a 38-32 victory.

Storm had just two points prior to the fourth quarter, but in the final eight minutes, she made all six free throws she attempted, and scored the layup that put the Bulldogs ahead for good with 58.6 seconds left.

Hancock coach Ward Helakoski was proud of his point guard, as Storm has had to adjust to her new role with the recent injuries the Bulldogs have suffered. She finished with a team-high 10 points.

Houghton’s Eva Gerard attempts a layup during the first quarter of a game against Hancock Monday at the Hancock Gym. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

“She’s risen up in a big way since we’ve had the guards get hurt,” he said. “She’s, all of a sudden, the primary ball handler, and that wasn’t her role early, but she’s done a great job with it.

“You need your seniors to shine this time of year, because they have played the most basketball. They’ve been through the most pressure, and you can see tonight she handled it.”

The Bulldogs almost were not in a position to win in the final seconds, however. A really rough third quarter, where the Gremlins (14-6 overall) outscored them 8-2, left the visitors in the lead, 26-24, with eight minutes left to play.

Senior Josie Hembroff sparked the Bulldogs with a layup that put them back in the lead at 30-28, and allowed them to put pressure on the Gremlins from there. Hembroff finished with six points, four of which came in the fourth quarter.

“We just kind of got flat,” Helakoski said. “I thought our ball movement stopped. I thought our energy lulled, and then, all of a sudden, we found it again. Our red rocket, Josie Hembroff, rested, and came back quick, quicker than anyone left on the court, and she ran herself into exhaustion. So, it was impressive.”

Houghton coach Julie Filpus felt that her team did not deserve to win the game, as the Bulldogs played a brand of basketball that was tough to battle against.

“We did not play well, but, you know, I give Hancock credit,” she said. “They probably won the loose-ball battle. They won the offensive-rebounding battle. They won the defensive-rebounding battle, and, probably overall, they just wanted to win more than we did tonight.”

Hancock jumped out to an 8-7 lead after one quarter, and extended that lead to 22-18 by halftime. A big reason for that was the play of junior Sadie Biekkola on Gerard. Gerard, who normally leads the Gremlins’ attack with the way she works in the paint, struggled Monday with Biekkola, who came away with eight points and five offensive rebounds, and generally made life difficult for Gerard at every turn.

“I guess it just kind of goes back to their grit and their hustle,” said Filpus. “Like she (Biekkola) doesn’t quit. She just stays on it until either she’s got her hands on it, or we have her hands on it.”

Helakoski has seen a tremendous amount of growth in Biekkola’s game over the past month or so.

“Sadie’s grown a lot in the last month,” he said. “She’s a tough kid. She’s a good athlete. That’s the biggest (thing). I mean, you don’t throw a softball the way she throws a softball, and spike a volleyball without being an athlete. That’s what people kind of lose track of, what a good athlete she is. It was a good battle.”

For the Gremlins, the game was as much a mental game as it was a physical one.

“I guess our kids need to see, yet again, that, if they don’t show up mentally, it’s going to be a battle,” Filpus said. “We’ll get in the gym tomorrow. We’ll have a good practice. They’re going to respond, but, nonetheless, it’s very frustrating.”

UP NEXT

The Bulldogs are back in action Friday when they travel to face L’Anse. Opening tip is set for 6 p.m. Houghton is back in action Friday as well, facing Ontonagon at home at 7:15 p.m.

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