By RON DEUTER
IRON MOUNTAIN - Taylor Huotari sliced through the lane to bust a 36-36 tie midway through the fourth quarter, and Iron Mountain was able to hold off West Iron County 44-41 in a tight and physical non-conference boys basketball game here Tuesday evening.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photo
Iron Mountain’s Luke Zambon drives against West Iron County’s Ryan Rogers in Tuesday’s non-conference boys basketball game.
The Mountaineers (14-4) and Wykons (12-6) are scheduled to meet in a district opener at Norway High School on March 4.
"We talked about that," Mountaineers coach Bucky Johnson said. "We said that this was going to be an important game. We know West Iron has a good club, good players. They are athletic and scrappy.
"We approached this as important game."
Huotari and Luke Zambon fueled the Mountaineers with 18 points each. Huotari went left to hit his go-ahead layup, falling to the court as the shot fell through. He was also fouled and drilled the freebie.
A short jumper in the paint by Andy Ridolphi brought West Iron within two at 40-38 with 2:40 to play, but the Wykons were unable to get any closer as Iron Mountain did just enough at the line to maintain a slim cushion.
The score was 43-39 Mountaineers with about a minute left when the Wykons nearly came up with a steal. Iron Mountain had the ball poked loose and a scrum formed near mid-court for control.
A jump ball was called and Iron Mountain retained possession.
Ridolphi, who scored nine, put in a layup with about two seconds left to cut the final margin to three points.
"It was a gutty win," Johnson said. "The kids made the plays when they had to make them, and it was just a hard-fought win."
Adam Newby led West Iron with 16 points, but foul trouble limited him later in the game. Austin Waara, guarded by Huotari, was kept to eight points.
"I thought Taylor did a heck of a job on their leading scorer," Johnson said.
Despite the loss, Wykons coach Dan Schive felt his team would be fine come districts.
"We're pretty comfortable with anybody we're playing," he said. "If we play the way were supposed to play, we're fine. But we sometimes get a little bit of a brain lock and we get in trouble when we get out of what we do the best.
"We went through about four of those stretches tonight, for a couple minutes at a time. We clean that up, we'll be fine."
Wykons were ahead after each of the first three quarters, although neither team led by more than a bucker or two through the middle quarters.
Iron Mountain's first lead of the game came when Zambon sank a triple midway through the third quarter. But West Iron County closed the frame with an 8-3 push to carry a 34-32 edge into the final eight minutes.
A Zambon layup tied the contest early in the fourth. Zach Caudell then blocked a jump shot on the other end, and Paul Brooks' only two points of the night put IM up 36-34.
Tyler Stafford followed with a drive for two for the game's final tied score, ahead of Huotari's go-ahead three-point play.
"We didn't get off to a good start," Johnson said. "Playing last night probably had something to do with that, but a lot of it was West Iron. They are physical, fast and scrappy.
"But we did enough to win."
West Iron plays at Hancock Friday. Iron Mountain goes to Menominee.
The IM jayvees won 55-43 with 14 points by Cole Rossato.
West Iron 12 8 14 7 - 41
Iron Mountain 6 12 14 12 - 44
WEST IRON COUNTY: Ad. Newby 16, Ridolphi 9, Waara 8, Pisoni 4, Stafford 4. FT: 5-8. F: 17. FO: Ad. Newby.
IRON MOUNTAIN - Huotari 18, Zambon 18, Pirkola 4, Brooks 2. FT: 9-15. F: 12.
FG shooting - WIC:16-40; IM: 16-50. 3-pt FGs - WIC: Ad. Newby (3), Waara; IM: Zambon. Rebounding - WIC: 25 (Waara 9); IM: 27 (Zambon 7).