In ‘81, Lakes and Jets ran extra long

PAINESDALE – On a mid-January night in 1981, the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes and Jeffers Jets played a historic game of basketball.

The two Copper Country Conference rivals needed five overtimes before the hometown Jets walked away with a 38-36 win.

The game still remains as the longest hoops contest ever played in the Copper Country – and topped a LL-H-Calumet boys game earlier this season by two extra periods.

“It wasn’t really a case of the teams holding the ball until the final seconds,” noted former JHS coach Mike Maki. “Neither side could buy a basket. You’ve heard of the movie, ‘The Longest Day.’ Well, this was the longest night.”

When the two teams met on Jan. 16, 1981, their game was not the featured match of the evening. That belonged to an unbeaten Dollar Bay team, which was facing Baraga.

Coach Jim Bronczyk’s Bays were near the end of a record 58-game winning streak in the CCC, all-stater Keith Kentala their big gun.

Houghton’s boys team – on the way to a district tourney title that season – downed archrival Hancock that night behind John Mikkola and Soren Hauge.

The Suomi College (now Finlandia University) men’s basketball team moved to 8-2 after an easy 96-44 romp over Hibbing Junior College.

On the hockey scene, the Houghton Gremlins were a season away from a state championship under the guidance of the late Don Miller.

And the Michigan Tech hockey team was putting together a late-season run that would vault them into the Frozen Four in Duluth. Some of the key players for coach John MacInnes’ club incuded goalie Frank Krieber, Tim Watters and Mel Pearson, the present MTU mentor.

LL-H coach Bill Tarbox brought a young 1-6 team to Jeffers that evening, four of his starters being either freshmen or sophomores.

“We were exceptionally young,” recalled Tarbox a few years ago. “But we had some promising talent.”

Maki, whose Jets were 4-5 coming in, relied on the scoring of seniors Keith Abramson and Troy Wiitala.

“We weren’t a bad team, we just had problems putting the ball in the basket,” he said. “Our top scorer (Abramson) averaged right around 11 points a game.”

The Lakes took 12-6 and 23-22 leads after the first two periods. It was deadlocked at 32-32 after three quarters. Each team could manage just two points in the fourth frame for a 34-all reading.

Carl Bammert tallied a hoop for the Lakes in the first overtime, with Abramson answering for the Jets for a 36-36 stalemate.

There was no scoring in the next three stanzas although Tarbox noted “we both had good opportunities.”

Abramson recalls both teams passing the ball around a lot.

“I think both of us were looking for the perfect shot,” he said. “In that kind of game, you don’t want to make the mistake that costs you the game.”

With both teams dragging in the fifth extra period, Abramson finally hit a rebound shot with just six seconds left for the game-winner.

Wiitala led all scorers with 15 points and John Keranen had eight more. John Gervais and Al Rheault each scored 10 points for the Lakes.

Abramson said his memories of the game are clear.

“That’s probably because I hit the game-winner,” he noted. “You don’t get too many chances to do that.”

Maki – noted as being a tactician of the game – would coach for 30 seasons at Jeffers and record 301 victories. He finished his career as the athletic director at Calumet High.

Tarbox coached a couple more seasons at Lake Linden before moving on to take the principal’s job at Dollar Bay. He retired five years ago and now lives in Florida where he works at a golf course.

Ironically enough, the Lakes had played a state record five overtime football games during the 1976 season.

Legendary LL-H coach Ron Warner would call the season “one of the most memorable I ever coached.”

By the way, the Michigan prep basketball record for most overtime quarters was set on Jan. 22, 1971 when downstate Mattawan and Parchment teams went eight OTs.

Still, the most extra periods ever played by local sports teams was a 1976 Calumet-Houghton state hockey tournament game that went six overtimes.