LINCOLN-Karina Cole and the Alcona girls basketball team finally got a monkey off their back.
Backed by a strong defensive effort and more than enough offense, Cole and the Tigers topped Houghton Lake 60-40 in a Class C district final on Friday to win their first district title since 2010.
Alcona (19-3) advances to play Beaverton next Tuesday in a regional semifinal at Sanford-Meridian.
After losing in the district final twice in the last three years, Alcona made sure to wrap the title up with a force. The Tigers overcame a slow start and raced out to 37-16 lead by halftime.
The win was also the cherry on top in a brilliant high school career for Cole. Earlier this season she became Alcona's all-time leading scorer and she's earned all-state and all-conference honors. But the one thing missing from her resume was a district title.
In her final home game, Cole scored 21 points and helped set the tone for Alcona on both ends of the floor. She finished with a double-double after adding 10 rebounds and also had five assists and seven steals.
"(I've wanted it) more than most people can probably imagine. Getting beat my other three years was disappointing, but this one makes up for it for sure," Cole said. "My brother was always talking about how he always had them and I've never experienced it. To experience it is a great feeling. I didn't play the best, but it's still a good end."
Houghton Lake, one of the surprise teams in the district tournament, caught Alcona by surprise early and raced out to a 9-4 lead to begin the game. It was shortlived though as Alcona rallied to take a 15-11 lead by the end of the period and the Bobcats went without a field goal for more than 10 minutes.
Sydney Pierce added 12 points for Alcona and Kendra Cole and Megan Quick each had seven.
Houghton Lake was outscored 22-5 in the second quarter with all of its points coming on free throws. Alcona turned up the defensive pressure and forced the Bobcats to rush their shots. Houghton Lake couldn't break through Alcona's press and more often than not found itself turning the ball over and was unable to keep up with Alcona's speed.
Hailee Akin paced the Bobcats with 10 points and Sarah Garrett added nine points.
The Bobcats fared a little bit better in the second half, but by that point Alcona was subbing in players to give it's bench players some time on the floor. Alcona's seniors-Cole, Quick, Hannah Terpstra and Turner Somers among them-spent the last few minutes of the game on the floor together and were greeted with loud cheers as the game ended.
"We finally got it off our back. We had Karina, a four-year varsity player who had won and district and that was a top goal of ours as we kept playing forward this year," Alcona coach Brad Cole said. "We thought this would be as good a year as ever to do it."
Now the Tigers will turn their attention to Beaverton, which beat Beal City 53-49 to win its district. Alcona played Beaverton over the summer, but Brad knows the matchup will be tougher this time around.
"We played them a few times in camp and both games were down to the wire," Brad said. "Camp's camp, but they've got a great program and we're looking forward to meeting them on Tuesday."
ALCONA (60): M. Quick 3 0-0 7; S. Pierce 6 0-0 12; Ke. Cole 3 0-0 7; Ka. Cole 7 7-9 21; T. Harmon 1 0-2 3; N. Walen 2 2-2 6; M. Feldhiser 1 0-0 2; S. Schopfer 1 0-0 2.
HOUGHTON LAKE (40): H. Akin 3 4-7 10; C. Akin 2 2-2 6; G. Carroll 3 0-3 8; S. Garrett 3 3-4 9; A. Winkler 1 2-6 4; C. Ignat 0 1-2 1; B. Ripke 0 2-2 2.
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.