Gremlins return to form

CALUMET – In recent history, the Houghton girls’ basketball team has not spent much time in third place in the WestPAC.

Tuesday, they played like a team that didn’t want to be there any more.

The Gremlins’ 67-49 win over Calumet was 32 minutes of classic Houghton basketball: intense defense, a devastating fast break and a variety of offensive threats.

“We definitely put ourselves in a corner. We’re not out of the corner but this was definitely a step in the right direction. Conference games are always important and we brought the intensity tonight,” Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.

Sure, the Gremlins still carried a noteworthy 7-1 record and the No. 5 ranking in this week’s U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Class ABC poll. But against an unbeaten Calumet team that is ranked No. 3, the Gremlins were the aggressors from the opening tip.

“It was such a fun game to play. I’m glad we played so well and we just have to go up from here,” Gremlin senior Elisa Jurmu said.

When Jurmu’s having fun, most opponents are not. She led all scorers with 16 points (10 in the first quarter alone), but the Gremlins didn’t have to depend on her, as Sydney Dillinger (15), Kelsie Richards (15) and Ashlyn Kero (12) all scored in double figures.

“We looked at pushing the ball down the floor a little bit more. We hit big shots and we found some easy shots because I think we have kids that have their heads up and can handle the ball well,” Filpus said.

A 13-2 run starting late in the second quarter gave Houghton the upper hand, and it had a little of everything: Jurmu scoring down low and on the break, a three from Kero, a couple of free throws from Dillinger and a willingness to attack the basket despite the Copper Kings’ formidable interior size.

The Gremlins led 35-24 at the half and never let the Kings within seven the rest of the way.

Calumet coach Don Hill said the visitors controlled the tempo and many other aspects of the game.

“It’s a credit to them: We knew what they were going to do. Everybody knows what they’re going to do but trying to stop what they do is something you can’t simulate in practice,” Hill said.

A bright spot for the Kings was junior forward Ellen Twardzik, who ruled the post and for whom Houghton could not account on the offensive glass. Twardzik lost most of her first two varsity seasons to knee injuries, but it didn’t take an M.D. to recognize she’s finding her stride.

“She’s been waiting to play against Houghton for three years. She has wanted to and, she’s geared up for it and she played well tonight,” Hill said.

A hustle putback of her own free throw miss by Calumet’s Nikki Polakova made it 43-36 with 3:34 to go in the third, but Dillinger drove to the basket for an and-one on the other end, starting another 13-2 run that basically ended it.

The lanky Dillinger has made a name for herself as a defender, but her 15 points (triple her average of 4.9 ppg) amounted to the second-best output of her career and gave the Gremlins a big boost.

“We had the intensity and shooting that we wanted,” Dillinger said. “We hit the open player and we kicked it out when there were triple-teams inside.”

Calumet (6-1, 2-1 WestPAC) was led by 15 points from Lexie Rowe. The Kings are off until a Monday trip to Chassell.

“We’ve got to keep working. We’re not as good as we think we are until we prove we’re as good as we think we are. We learned that tonight,” Hill said.

And so, what should be a thrilling WestPAC race is officially on, with L’Anse (6-1, 1-0 WestPAC) now a game in the lead despite suffering a non-league loss at Negaunee Tuesday.

Next for Houghton (8-1, 2-1) is a Thursday make-up game at Jeffers, followed by a league trip to West Iron County Friday.

“I don’t think we started anywhere near our expectations. I feel like this is more of what we wanted to see and I think the girls realize when they play this way how well it works for us,” Filpus said.