L'ANSE - Madi Swanson, Kelsey Ross and Valerie Rajala weren't even in kindergarten yet the last time the Houghton girls' basketball team lost to a local team, but Tuesday the three L'Anse juniors put an end to the Gremlins' historic streak in an overtime thriller.
The trio of juniors combined to score all the Purple Hornet points - Swanson with a game- and career-high 26 - in a 60-56 WestPAC win over Houghton. The Gremlins' last loss to a team in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw or Ontonagon counties came Nov. 2, 1999, in a 20-19 home loss to Calumet.
"I'm just proud of the girls. Tonight we won with heart and quickness," L'Anse coach Scott Lloyd said. "I think this a big confidence booster for them because when you see Houghton, it's always like 'Oh shoot, we have to play them again.' Now the mental part of it is over with."
L’Anse players and coach Scott Lloyd celebrate on the court Tuesday after the buzzer sounded on the Purple Hornets’ 60-56 home overtime win over long-time girls’ basketball powerhouse Houghton. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
But it certainly wasn't easy.
The Purple Hornets held a 47-38 lead with 7:25 to go, but the Gremlins went on a 13-2 run capped off by an Elisa Jurmu 3 to take a 51-49 lead with 43 seconds left in regulation - their first since leading 9-8 in the first quarter. Rajala, who finished with 16 points and 14 boards, converted a layup with 4.5 seconds left to force OT, added another layup to start the four-minute extra session and capped off the game's scoring with a pair of free throws.
"We did a nice job of getting back into the game, but our effort from the beginning and through the first half was a lot to overcome," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said. " I think L'Anse wanted to win more than we did. They had a little more heart and passion toward what they wanted to accomplish and it showed in the way their girls shot the ball and their intensity throughout."
Houghton 14 10 14 13 5 - 56
L'Anse 18 10 17 6 9 - 60
Houghton Elisa Jurmu 25, Blaire Zenner 10, Sydney Dillinger 8, Kelsie Richards 6, Natalie Datto 4, Alexa Johnson 3; FT 9-11; Fouls: 20; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Jurmu 4, Dillinger 1, Johnson 1.
L'Anse Madi Swanson 26, Kelsey Ross 18, Valerie Rajala 16; FT: 14-19; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Ross 4, Swanson 2.
L'Anse, which had nine players score at least three points Thursday at Lake Linden-Hubbell, opened up a 4-0 lead in the first 90 seconds before Houghton went on a 9-2 run. Then the Swanson show began.
The speedy point guard slashed the Gremlin defense at will, earning and making a pair of free throws to make it 9-8, drilling a 3 to make it 11-9, answering a Jurmu jumper with another triple and adding two more free throws and a bucket. Even with a Sydney Dillinger half-court buzzer-beater to end the first, Swanson's 12 straight L'Anse points gave the hosts an 18-14 lead after eight minutes.
"We at times struggled with Madissen's dribble penetration," Filpus said. "She was a load for us the entire evening, but I think Kelsey Ross was the dagger. Some of her 3-pointers came at great times for L'Anse and kept us down and kept us at bay."
After nearly two minutes of scoreless play to start the second quarter, Ross rained down the first of her four triples to spark a 7-0 L'Anse run. Houghton's Blaire Zenner scored six of her 10 points consecutively at the end of the quarter to cut the Gremlin halftime deficit to 28-24.
But L'Anse's lefty long-baller opened the second-half scoring with a 3, answered a four-point Houghton spurt with another long-range bomb and gave the hosts their biggest lead of the night, 45-33, late in the third. She finished with 18 points.
"Kelsey Ross made some shots at the times in the game that were huge," Lloyd said, " but the key point in the game is they could not keep Madissen in front of them. She's an animal off the dribble."
Swanson opened the fourth with a layup and picked up two of her six assists in the last eight minutes of regulation, after Rajala picked up her fourth foul with 7:10 left. Swanson's penetration led to layups, open Ross looks and Rajala layups all night long. She converted five of six overtime free throws to help clinch the game.
"It feels awesome," said Swanson, who is averaging 20.7 points per game through three L'Anse victories. "We played really hard tonight, and I thought we played a great game."
Jurmu, who spent much of the middle of the game on the bench with foul trouble, led Houghton with 25 points, including four 3s. In addition to the trifecta that gave the Gremlins their late 51-49 lead, she hit from beyond the arc with three seconds left in overtime to make the 60-56 final. Zenner added a double-double for Houghton with 10 points and 16 rebounds, but L'Anse, even with a marked size disadvantage, often frustrated Houghton through its aggressive zone defense.
"It's a good measuring stick for our kids," Filpus said. "Obviously we're very frustrated with the way they played this evening, but the regular season is to progress and show improvement, and to prepare for the playoffs."
The teams meet again Jan. 28 in Houghton.
The Gremlins (2-1, 0-1 WestPAC) are back in action Dec. 14 at conference foe West Iron County, while the Purple Hornets (3-0, 1-0 WestPAC), who won the JV game 56-45, host Jeffers in non-conference play Friday.
"To be honest, I felt really good about today," Lloyd said. "I know coach Filpus is confident in her team, but I'm very confident in ours. We believe we can compete with anybody."