By BURT ANGELI
NORWAY - Iron Mountain isn't ready to put away the basketballs.
The Mountaineers, inspired by veterans and a newcomer, rallied past West Iron County 51-41 in the Class C District 95 girls basketball opener Wednesday.
Iron Mountain, winning for just the third time this season and the second against the Wykons, recovered from a seven-point deficit early in the second half.
"We came ready to play and we played hard," Iron Mountain Coach Ginger Moore said. "We had a lot of intensity and spirit. I couldn't be prouder."
West Iron's aggressive style resulted in the district title last year. This time, the contact resulted in free throws and the Mountaineers meshed 23 of 35.
"We've been shooting a lot of free throws in practice," Moore said. "That definitely was a key factor in the game along with our rebounding."
West Iron went south after pulling ahead 23-16 in the first two minutes of the second half. Iron Mountain responded with a 16-4 surge and 32-27 edge entering the fourth quarter.
"All of a sudden we weren't finishing stuff and we weren't getting to the basket enough," WIC Coach Joe Serbentas said. "They were able to control the pace of the game after that and brought it back to a sluggish pace.
"The key was if we could keep it an up-tempo game. It just seemed like we could never get into that pace because of all the fouling."
Sophomore Katie Brule, a jayvee call-up for the tournament, registered a team-high 15 points including seven in the fourth quarter. Senior Elli McCole tacked on 14 points and junior Alena Herman snared 11 rebounds.
"Katie played great and stepped up," Moore said. "She certainly did not look like a sophomore.
"It's a credit to her and the team. I'm happy how the team has come together and how we're playing together."
The Wykons anticipated the 5-foot-10 Brule's berth on the varsity.
"We knew she would be a tall task for us," Serbentas said. "She's got height and size. She has the good moves inside. She can catch and finish around the basket.
"She came up and gave them the spark they needed in the tournament."
Alexis Golfis, on the strength of four triples, scored a game-high 23 points. The WIC junior guard had 16 in the game's first 18 minutes.
West Iron, picking up the pressure in the second half, closed to two points twice in the final quarter. Iron Mountain, usually susceptible to pressure, made just seven of its 20 turnovers in the second half.
"We had to limit our turnovers and we did a much better job in the second half," Moore said. "Overall, we did well. We handled the press well."
West Iron extended its defense to the midcourt line. But Iron Mountain, after a couple miscues, didn't become unraveled.
"We wanted to cause some chaos but Iron Mountain adjusted to that after a couple turnovers," Serbentas said. "They were just ready today and played pretty good. Hats off to them. They did a great job."
A Meg Miatech bucket with 1:20 left shaved the difference to 43-38. The Mountaineers answered with six straight free throws from Brule, Alyssa Khor and McCole.
"We've come a long way," Moore said. "Regardless of what happens Friday, we can end the season with a huge smile. I'm really happy with the way we played."
Tourney host Norway (8-12) will attempt to beat Iron Mountain (3-18) for third time this season when they square off in the final Friday. Winner goes to Escanaba for the regional.
"It's hard to beat a team three times," Moore said with a smile. "I expect it to be an intense, hard-fought battle. I fully expect the press and strong defensive pressure.
"They've had other additions to their program and they're playing really well as of late."
West Iron 9 8 10 14 - 41
Iron Mountain 4 12 16 19 - 51
WEST IRON COUNTY: Golfis 23, L. Pellizzer 2, Kinner 1, Angeli 2, C. Pellizzer 6, Miatech 7. FT: 5-13. F: 23.
IRON MOUNTAIN: Khor 8, Herman 4, Feira 7, McCole 14, Pirkola 3, Brule 15. FT: 23-35. F: 12.
3-point FG: Khor, Golfis 4. FG shooting: Iron Mountain 13-51, WIC 16 made. Rebounding: WIC 24 (Miatech 8).