ESCANABA - A fast start for the Houghton Gremlins would turn out to be enough to earn them the 45-28 Class C regional semifinal win Monday, as the Norway Knights had more than their share of offensive struggles.
The Gremlins kicked off the game on a 10-0 run, and they were able to settle in once they made some early baskets. They set the pace high right out of the gate, and it allowed them to get some good offensive production. On the other hand, Norway couldn't get anything to fall, and they fell into a 15-4 hole after the first quarter.
"We've had stretches of the season where we've really struggled to score," said Knights coach Ben Leiker. "We just have a hard time shooting, and it showed up in this game. And we gave them way too many opportunities."
Houghton coach Jared Lawson stressed before the game that it was vital that his group got off to a quick start, and he was happy that they were able to do so.
"It's kind of been the way the season has gone for us," he said. "We've gotten off to these fast starts and then we hit a lull where that fast start has allowed us to kind of cushion that blow. Certainly, that was the case tonight."
Norway (7-14) stepped up the defensive effort in the second quarter, and some mistakes by the Gremlins allowed them to creep back into the contest. About halfway through the quarter, Norway was only down by five. But even when the Knights found open looks, the ball just wasn't falling for them often enough to seize the lead.
Norway 4 10 8 6 - 28
Houghton 15 9 9 12 - 45
NORWAY - Grayvold 9, Mueller 6, Bray 3, Grayvold 10; FT: 2-11; F: 12; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Grayvold, Bray.
HOUGHTON - Keteri 5, Goodreau 6, Ohtonen 3, LaBerge 15, Collaer 7, Saari 9; FT: 8-11; F: 12; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Keteri, LaBerge, Saari.
"These kids played hard, they played well all year on the defensive end, but sometimes we are a little bit limited on the offensive end," Leiker said. "Tonight, we couldn't buy a basket. We missed layups and other opportunities.
"When we were down five, we missed a chance that really could have pulled us up. We just didn't calm down quick enough in this game."
Houghton (15-7) went into halftime with a 10-point lead, and they were able to ride out the rest of the game after their defense responded to Norway's second quarter effort.
"We've been telling the guys that all year," Lawson said. "The offense may come and go, but the defense has got to stay. That way, you can keep yourself in the game or maintain a lead. I was really proud of those guys for stepping up."
Leiker added that the Knights season was a difficult one, but they ended the season with a very productive stretch that turned out to be the high point of the year for them.
"We really played together, and that's what we're going to dwell on," he said. "We had a pretty good push to be able to win the district, and it was a nice accomplishment for this bunch."
Ryan LaBerge led the Gremlins with 15 points, while John Grayvold paced the Knights with 10 points.
Houghton advances to play Negaunee (22-1) in the regional championship Wednesday in Escanaba.
"Negaunee is a phenomenal team and their coach has done a fantastic job of making them into a powerhouse of a program," Lawson said. "We know we've got to play pretty much our best game of the year. That's what we're going to focus on."