IRON RIVER - Norway believed.
They really believed.
The Knights and rival Iron Mountain slugged it out for a third time this season in the Class C District 95 boys basketball final Wednesday at Charles Greenlund Gymnasium.
Burt Angeli/The Daily News Photos
Norway’s defense surrounds Iron Mountain’s Carson Wonders in the Class C District 95 finals Wednesday at Iron River. Nick Bal (left), Bryce Grayvold (32), Stone Rossato (15), Garrett Bonetti (20) and Jordan Mauro are all on the scene.
Norway’s Austin Grayvold celebrates with the Class C District 95 championship trophy.
Norway, after a pair of regular season losses to the Mountaineers where they combined to score 58 points, pulled off a 39-32 shocker to reach the regionals.
"I really didn't know if they were believers," said Norway Coach Ben Leiker, who chalked up his 11th district in 16 years. "We worked hard preparing for this. The kids played hard.
"Bucky's teams are always ready and they're so physical. It's a tough match-up."
Norway (7-12) has spent the past couple weeks drilling for Iron Mountain (10-11). The three-team district tipped off Monday with the Mountaineers bouncing the host Wykons.
"Once it comes district time, regular season doesn't matter," Norway senior guard Austin Grayvold said. "Norway has a history of making some magic happen in the districts.
"Coach Leiker has been saying we're going to win, we're going to win, we're going to win. That's all we've been saying in practice. You have to bring that mindset to the game."
A battle royale from the start, Norway managed leads of 15-14 at halftime and 27-24 after three quarters. The Knights chipped out a 35-29 margin with 1:17 left but the Mountaineers did come back to 35-32 at the 47-second mark.
"It wasn't so much our defense but we didn't get much production out of our offense," Iron Mountain Coach Bucky Johnson said. "I credit some of that to their defense but we just missed shots."
The Mountaineers shot 28 percent from the floor, hitting no more than four field goals in any quarter.
Norway scrapped the zone defense from the regular season and played a man emphasizing the interior.
"We packed it in hard in the middle to keep the bigs from scoring on us," said Leiker, referring to the Mountaineers' 6-foot-5 Zach Caudell and Jacob Thomann (7 points combined). "We made a huge effort to stop all the plays that really concentrate in the middle.
"Our strategy worked because they weren't hot from the outside. But this is a very tough place to shoot with very tight rims and no back-drop."
Both teams connected on 13 field goals, although Norway notched four triples and nine free throws while Iron Mountain had two and four.
"It's not like we haven't faced man," Johnson said. "It wasn't a surprise. We just didn't execute very well."
Six-foot-four Nick Pearman, who normally starts and exits early, battled ferociously for the Knights.
"We had a lot of drive coming into the game," Pearman said. "We were just explosive and covering everything on defense, rebounding, getting boards and executing on offense."
Leiker credited Pearman for his effort, preparation and attention to detail.
"We had a thorough scouting report and I asked the kids to study players as far where they're effective and where they're not effective," Leiker said. "He did a good job of leaving his man and helping out when his man wasn't in position to score. He played hard and came through."
A Garrett Bonetti triple with 29 seconds left boosted Norway to a 27-24 lead after three quarters.
In the fourth, sophomore Bryce Grayvold drained a three and Nick Bal netted a free throw for a 33-28 advantage at 3:12. A Bonetti bucket hiked the spread to 35-29 when the Mountaineers answered with a Mark Beauchamp free throw and a steal where CJ Qualley tipped the ball to Ryan Ducharme.
Over the final 47 seconds, the Grayvold brothers converted four free throws to put it away.
"We made some shots that maybe we don't always make," Leiker said. "They missed shots that a lot of times they make. They struggled from the three-point line.
"Our big thing was to be aggressive on both sides. We kept them in the 40s the first two times (during the regular season) and I didn't think we could keep them less than that. We're not a high-scoring team. Keeping them under 40 was pretty big."
Bryce Grayvold led the Knights with 13 points, followed by Austin Grayvold, nine; Pearman, eight, and Bonetti, five.
"They had better balance," Johnson noted.
Twenty of Iron Mountain's 32 points came from freshman Carson Wonders (12 in the first 22 minutes) and sophomore Tanner Huotari (8). Caudell grabbed 10 rebounds.
Norway will now focus on the regional where Ironwood (19-3) awaits Monday in Marquette.
Iron Mountain 8 6 10 8 - 32
Norway 6 9 12 12 - 39
IM: Beauchamp 3, Caudell 3, Thomann 4, Ducharme 2, Huotari 8, Wonders 12. FT: 4-11. F: 18. Fouled out: Grenier (3:12, 4th), Caudell (:18, 4th).
N: A. Grayvold 9, Bonetti 5, Bal 1, Mauro 3, Pearman 8, B. Grayvold 13. FT: 9-15. F: 13. Fouled out: Pearman (:55, 4th).
3-pt: Bonetti, Mauro, B. Grayvold 2, Huotari 2. FGs: IM 13-45, Norway 13. Reb: IM 32 (Caudell 10).