MARQUETTE - They reached a regional final for the first time in what is believed to be 39 years, but the Ishpeming High School basketball Hematites will have to wait another season to go further.
IHS fell prey to a Houghton juggernaut Thursday night in Marquette, losing to the Gremlins 67-36 in the girls MHSAA Region 24, Class C, tournament final.
Houghton will now play Shelby at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Petoskey in state quarterfinal play. The Eagles beat Traverse City St. Francis on Thursday, 55-35.
Houghton junior Noelle Polakowski (11) gets blocked on a shot by Ishpeming senior Taylor Croley (40) and sophomore Jessica Spencer during the MHSAA Class C regional championship game played at Marquette Senior High School on Thursday night. The Gremlins prevailed 67-36 to advance to the quarterfinals in Petoskey on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
"They were clicking on all cylinders" IHS head coach Mark Dellangelo said of the Gremlins, "and we weren't at the top of our game."
Houghton (22-2) got 15 points from Elisa Jurmu, 12 from Sydney Dillinger and 11 from Kelsie Richards.
"We picked up where we left off Tuesday," said Houghton head coach Julie Filpus, referencing a 70-40 regional semifinal triumph over West Iron County. "I was very pleased to see the (offensive) execution."
Added Houghton senior Blaire Zenner: "We took care of business. We shot the ball well and played good defense."
The Hematites (17-7), meanwhile, had trouble getting untracked offensively due largely to the Gremlins' height advantage and half-court defensive pressure.
Jordann Grigg led IHS with seven points. The Hematites' leading scorer, Jessica Spencer, was held scoreless by the Gremlins until the first 28 seconds of the fourth quarter when she sank two free throws, finishing with four points.
"We tried to spread it out and attack the basket," Dellangelo said, "but (Houghton's) long and we had a hard time trying to attack the gaps. That limited what Jess could do."
The Gremlins led 16-8 after the first quarter and 31-15 at the half behind 12 points by Dillinger and 10 by Jurmu.
"We had a strong defensive start," said Filpus, who added it's the Gremlins' first regional title since 2008-09. "That has been the key for us all year. Richards did a phenomenal job guarding Spencer."
Said Dellangelo: "They made their layups and we didn't make ours."
Any hopes the Hematites had of coming back in the third quarter were dashed early when the Gremlins went on a 9-4 run in the first 2:53 to go up 40-19.
"Going into the half with a 16-point lead gave us confidence," Filpus said. "But we wanted to get the lead to 20 early in the quarter to see how Ishpeming would react."
The Gremlins went on to outscore Ishpeming 23-6 in the stanza behind seven points from Richard, and six apiece from Jurmu and Alexa Johnson.
"(The Gremlins) came to play and we weren't able to do what we wanted to do," Dellangelo said. "When there's blood in the water for Houghton, they go for the kill."
Still, the IHS coach said his team - which saw three sophomores start and another sophomore one of the first off the bench - is "going in the right direction."
"Good teams and programs know how to win," he said. "We're still learning that process. We're trying to get like that."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.