MARQUETTE - Valentines Day couldn't get much sweeter for the No. 2-ranked Marquette Senior High School girls basketball program on Thursday, as it pulled out a 58-55 thriller over No. 1 Houghton on Senior Night in Maquette.
Not only did the Redettes get revenge for their 56-47 loss to the Gremlins on Feb. 5 in Houghton, but they did it on the heels of head coach Ben Smith's 100th career victory.
Just hours before, junior varsity head coach Rich Ledy picked up his 200th career win in the Marquette program.
Marquette’s Kirsten Iwanski goes up for a layup as Houghton’s Sydney Dillinger tries to block her during the third quarter at Marquette Senior High School on Thursday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"I thought we competed hard," Smith said. "We got down 19-11 in the first half, but we definitely didn't have any quit and we fought through. We hung in there and made some plays and down the stretch we were able to make enough plays to win the game."
With just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter, the Redettes trailed by two. Sophomore guard Hunter Viitala drove to the paint, drew the Houghton defenders and dished a pass to fellow sophomore Shayla Huebner.
Huebner took a hard foul from the Houghton defender and sunk a pair of free throws to tie the game at 53-53 with 1:07 left.
On the ensuing possession Redette sophomore Elizabeth Kurin got a steal that lead to a Viitala lay-up on the other end, as Marquette took the game's final lead.
"Me and Shayla have been playing (together) for three years," Viitala said. "We've been playing travel basketball and in middle school so we've kind of had a connection all this time. You've just got to know what the other person is going to do and we read each other very well."
Trailing by two with 33 seconds left, Houghton called a timeout, then threw a cross court pass out of bounds on the ensuing possession.
The Gremlins were forced to foul Kurin, who sunk two free throws to make it 57-53 and a two possession game.
Houghton's head coach Julie Filpus said her team lacked the same focus they had when the teams met nine days earlier.
"You probably can say that we were more mentally prepared the first time we played Marquette and I think that award went to the Marquette girls tonight," Filpus said. "I thought they were more focused. I thought they played with a little more determination."
Marquette fell behind early in the game as the Gremlins bolted out to a 19-11 first quarter lead. The Redettes used a strong second quarter to take a 29-28 lead into halftime.
"I don't know if it's nerves, anxious energy or what, but they just kind of got after us a couple plays," Smith said. "There were probably six or seven loose balls earlier and they got five or six of them and we just can't compete with a team like that if we don't play as hard as they do."
The Redettes got a big boost from Viitala during that crucial run in the second quarter as she poured in 12 of her game-high 19 points in the first half.
Viitala also snagged six rebounds. Kurin also netted 10 points and senior Liana Storm collected six assists.
In the second half, sophomore forward Kirsten Iwanski was a big presence in the post, scoring nine of her 12 points, including two 3-point plays.
"She did really good posting up," Viitala said. "She is so strong in the post so when she gets open, she will finish and she'll make it count."
Win the win, Marquette hopes to reclaim the No. 1 ranking in the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Class ABC girls basketball poll. The Redettes held the spot prior to their loss to Houghton.
"It something that's really special to be recognized as one of the best handful of teams," Smith said.