HOUGHTON - A group of Gremlins "born to run" may be headed for the top of the charts next week.
Houghton pushed the pace to build an 18-point cushion it nursed to the finish for a 56-47 win over Marquette, as No. 2 defeated No. 1 in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Class ABC girls basketball poll.
"When we can get our rebounds, push the ball up the floor and get easy layups, those are easy points that can get us ahead," Houghton forward Elisa Jurmu said. She led all scorers with 16 points.
Houghton’s Alexa Johnson, right, tries to take the ball away from Marquette’s Liana Storm on a drive in the first half of their game Monday night. Sydney Dillinger of Houghton guards from the opposite side. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Brandon Veale)
This week's U.P. poll had already been taken when the teams tipped off Monday night, so the Gremlins will have to defeat Ontonagon at home Thursday to confirm their top spot when the poll comes out next week.
The Gremlins (15-1) were the first team to settle down after what looked like a nervous start with missed bunnies and turnovers for both sides.
Jurmu provided the spark, scoring eight of Houghton's first 10 points, until her teammates got into the act. The junior drove in for two with 3:40 left in the half, starting a 14-5 run with which the Gremlins took control. Kelsie Richards scored seven of her 11 points in the spurt, and Houghton finished the half with a textbook outlet pass by senior Blaire Zenner over the top of the Marquette defense to Jurmu, who laid it in as the quarter expired for a 31-19 lead.
Marquette coach Ben Smith was not happy with the way his team competed as Houghton pulled away.
"We let (Jurmu) run out and get layups and that's a recipe for things not being good," he said.
Houghton scored the first three buckets of the second half to run its lead to 18 before Marquette found its feet.
"I thought we played far better as a team (in the second half)," Smith said. "Our plan didn't change a ton. Our execution and effort improved greatly."
The comeback began when sophomore Destiny Beckwith drained a triple from the left side with 1:37 left in the third quarter. Beckwith added two more treys early in the fourth to bring the Redettes back into single digits with 6:42 to go.
Marquette's full-court pressure was becoming increasingly effective and things got particularly edgy when Lizzy Kurin nailed a 3, then split a pair of free throws, cutting the lead to five with 3:38 left.
"They weren't ranked No. 1 in the U.P. for nothing," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.
"Their pressure on the ball, when you're inbounding it, it's tough. Too many panic passes in the second half."
Houghton cut through it for a pair of bunnies from Natalie Datto and Richards to keep pace, then killed off the clock and made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal its 13th straight win.
Houghton got an impressive night from Zenner, who was a rebound short of a double-double with 14 points (12 in the second half), nine boards, four steals and two blocks. The lanky forward found success faced up to the basket with a series of mid-range jumpers, particularly important since her points helped keep the Redettes' runs from hurting more than they did.
"My coach wants me to step up and hit those and that's what I tried to do," Zenner said.
Marquette (12-3), which lost for the first time since Dec. 1, just couldn't get out of the early hole it landed in.
"They (Houghton) helped us dig it, that's for sure," Smith said. "Houghton does a really good job of making you uncomfortable and we let them do that by standing around for a while."
The Redettes, who were led by Beckwith's nine points, host U.P. No. 4 Kingsford Thursday. MSHS won the JV and freshman games.
The teams meet again in Marquette on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14).