Someone needed to step up. Literally anyone. That was Julie Filpus’ halftime message to her team after the Houghton Gremlins scored just 14 points and shot 4 of 21 as they trailed Calumet at the half. The speech nearly took all 10 minutes of the halftime break, and by the time Houghton came out for the second half, the team had no time to get shots up.
But practice shots be damned when all it took for Houghton to find its rhythm was a mental reload. The Gremlins converted 11 of 19 opportunities in the second half to score a 49-44 Class C district semifinal win over the rival Copper Kings Monday in Calumet.
Houghton will now travel to face L’Anse on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the district title.
Senior Kendra Monette paced Houghton with a season-high 19 points including 15 in the second half when she made 5 of 7 shot attempts.
“Coach said that someone needed to step up,” Monette said. “I think all of us stepped up together as a team. We all just knew what we had to bring.”
The Gremlins (14-7) trailed 17-14 at the half in a defensive struggle that featured athletic, quick defenders, mixed in with atypical poor shooting from both teams. Calumet opened the first half making just 6 of 30 attempts, while both teams were 0 of 11 from 3-point range.
“I was hoping for that,” Calumet coach Jeff Twardzik said of wanting a defensive battle. “Houghton can be so explosive, so after that first half, I felt good about that low score and kind of that grind-it-out basketball. That’s where I felt we could steal one from them.”
Calumet (10-10) started in a man defense before mixing in a 3-2 zone after Twardzik saw how Houghton struggled against the same defense in an earlier contest against Escanaba. And from the 3:29 mark in the first quarter to 3:01 left in the second, Calumet held Houghton scoreless for a total time of 8:28.
“We were hoping we didn’t have to use the (3-2 zone), but the way the game started, we figured we’d give it a shot,” Twardzik said. “The kids did a great job with it and worked their butts off.
“A (nearly) nine-minute span like that, we really should’ve capitalized on it and been up by double digits in that time period.”
After Houghton missed its first 12 3s of the game, senior Madi Dillinger swished the first one of the game for either team to tie the contest at 21. Three possessions later, Monette drilled her first 3 from the corner to give Houghton a 24-23 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Houghton would not trail from that point forward.
Monette continued her aggressive play in the fourth quarter after she shot just twice in the first half. She swished another corner 3 to start the quarter and finished a transition layup as she was fouled before making a free throw for the three-point play, giving Houghton its biggest lead, 36-27, with 7:16 left in the game.
“We’ve told Kendra throughout the season that when she’s aggressive, we roll,” Filpus said. “Sometimes she tends to distribute the ball too much, and we struggle. Tonight we needed every one of her 19 (points), and I’m proud of her.”
While Houghton had its offensive breakthrough, Calumet’s never came. The Copper Kings shot just 12 of 30 in the second half and missed their first 21 3s of the night until senior Niina Anderson converted one to cut Houghton’s lead to 49-42 with 15 seconds left in the game.
“I don’t even know what to attribute that to,” Twardzik said of his team’s rough shooting night. “We haven’t shot great this year, but we haven’t shot that bad, ever. I could go look at the film, but it wasn’t hand-in-the-face, phenomenal defense at the 3-point line. It was open looks that we just couldn’t convert.”
Anytime Calumet looked like it may make a late run, Houghton had an answer. After Anderson converted a three-point play, Houghton’s Kara Pietila scored a transition layup to beat Calumet’s press to push the lead back up to 44-37. Calumet senior Lea Bjorn finished a putback on her team’s next possession, only to see Pietila score another uncontested layup as Houghton beat Calumet’s pressure again for a 46-39 advantage with 1:08 remaining in the fourth.
Anderson and Bjorn each recorded double-doubles with Anderson recording 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Bjorn had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“You really have to credit Kendra and Madi for the work they did in the backcourt,” Filpus said of her team’s press break. “(Kara) was ready for the easy shots, but our guards made that happen.”
Overall, Houghton finished 15 of 40 from the field (38 percent) and had 14 turnovers. Calumet shot 18 of 60 and held a 37-36 edge on the boards while committing 11 turnovers.
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Houghton 8 6 16 19 — 49
Calumet 5 12 10 17 — 44
Houghton — Dillinger 8, Pietila 7, Ryynanen 5, Klein 4, Monette 19, Froberg 6. F: 10; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 15-21; 3-point field goals: Monette 2, Ryynanen, Dillinger.
Calumet — Anderson 14, Brea Johnson 6, Bjorn 11, Kiilunen 4, Kariniemi 8, Djerf 1. F: 19; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 7-11; 3-point field goals: Anderson.