Gremlins too strong for Copper Kings

HOUGHTON – The Houghton Gremlins kept Calumet at arm’s length all night for a 61-47 WestPAC girls’ basketball win, demonstrating the gap between the U.P.’s No. 2 and 3 teams in Class ABC.

The Gremlins (9-1, 2-1 WestPAC) never gave the Copper Kings (8-2, 3-1 WestPAC) an opening to take this one, putting themselves into a virtual three-way tie with L’Anse in the league standings.

Key to Houghton’s victory were balance and consistency. Had Kelsie Richards scored one more point, Houghton would’ve achieved the rare feat of putting all five starters into double figures.

“We need a consistent second and third scorer. Today we needed that consistent second and third person to come up and hit shots and they did tonight. I’ll never complain about having a 20-point-per-game scorer, but other kids do have to score and there’s room for them to do that,” Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.

It was important because Calumet devoted heavy defensive pressure to junior forward Elisa Jurmu. Though Jurmu’s 14 led the Gremlins offensively, it was a season low and more than seven points less than her average.

“At the end of the day, we can look at the efforts of our kids, look at how Elisa was facing double and triple teams, and the fact that a few other kids stepped up nicely for us,” Filpus said.

As for the consistency part, Calumet never made a run of more than five consecutive points until the last two minutes, at which point it trailed by 20.

Calumet coach Don Hill expected the Gremlins to give his team no quarter, and they didn’t.

“They never do. They play great defense, we know that. You’ve got to work hard for everything and we’re willing to work hard. Our goal was to make them work for everything to and let the chips fall where they may. I think that second-quarter run that they had where we got in foul trouble, they got a lot of transition. They got a few buckets and a lot of free throws,” he said.

Houghton made its move midway through the second. After a Lexie Rowe putback made it 18-16 Gremlins at the 5:15 mark, Houghton went on a 10-1 run for an 11-point lead. The most powerful blows were a pair of triples from senior guard Natalie Datto.

The lead was 32-22 at halftime and Calumet senior Kristy Lasanen had a lot to do with it being that close, hitting three treys in the first half and another on the first possession of the third quarter en route to a game-high 20 points. Lasanen and Rowe (12 points) ensured Calumet remained within striking distance, but every Calumet basket appeared to have a reply on the other end, whether it was Richards and Jurmu getting out on the fast break or senior Blaire Zenner scoring on the block. Zenner’s 13-point night was a career high.

Calumet’s closest incursion was to within seven points on a Terilynne Budreau bucket with 6:09 to play. The Gremlins responded by slamming the door with a 13-0 run, starting with three trips to the free-throw line and ending with threes from Datto and Sydney Dillinger.

“Initially, I thought we weren’t passing well out of the double and the triple teams (against Jurmu), and I thought in the second half we had some really good opportunities to hit wide-open shooters,” Filpus said.

Datto and Dillinger finished with 10 points apiece, which were also career highs.

Houghton, Calumet and L’Anse now all have one league loss apiece, though at present, Calumet remains a half-game ahead of the pair at 3-1 in league play. The Copper Kings meet the Gremlins again Feb. 11 in Calumet, by which point Hill hopes his team will have exchanged youthful mistakes for consistency.

“We haven’t played great all the time. We’ve played great in stretches, and we’re young. Some inconsistency comes with youth, but moving forward to the end of the year, ‘sophomores and freshmen’ isn’t going to be an excuse anymore. They’re varsity players and they have to play like varsity players and be more consistent taking care of the ball and making better decisions,” he said.

The Copper Kings have more than a week off until a Jan. 24 trip to Jeffers. They won the JV game 42-27.

Houghton can officially tie for the WestPAC lead Friday when it hosts West Iron County.