IRONWOOD - Just after the MHSAA Division 4 District 97 title game concluded, all the Norway players and coaches held up four fingers. Norway coach Tony Adams said the four fingers symbolized winning four district tournaments in a row.
Norway used pitching and a stingy defense to shut down Ironwood 3-0 in Friday afternoon's title game at Lorenson Field.
The Knights have also won five of the last six districts.
"The kids don't ever expect to win the districts," Adams said. "But over the years, they started believing it could be done and they won it again. On this one, we were hoping but not expecting. Our record coming in was 9-8 and we've had our struggles on offense, but the kids believed and focused."
Adams said there was only one way to win four district titles in a row.
"The thing I can attribute it to is good players and good kids," Adams said. "Austin Grayvold is the only one who has won a district title all four years."
Ironwood coach Dan Niemi said his team's loss was a matter of hitting (or lack of). Ironwood only had five hits in game two.
"If you can't score, you can't win," Niemi said. "In the first inning, we had the bases loaded with no one out and we thought we were going to break it open. But we didn't get anything out of it.
"Norway's got a nice team, but we need to pick up our schedule and play teams like Tomahawk. We need to be more prepared for this (district tournament). But I was glad to see we were playing more down-and dirty baseball like the Red Devils are known for."
No doubt the Devils played hard throughout the tournament and it looked like the bats were coming alive in the second game.
Adam Mackey walked to open the game and Jon Clemens and Bryant Rowe followed with singles. A big first inning was just what the doctor ordered for Ironwood's sluggish offense, but the Devils came away empty-handed and experienced a letdown.
In the second inning, the Knights put two key runs on the board off starter Matt Dary. Bryce Grayvold started the inning with a base knock over the shortstop's head. After a fielder's choice, Jake Rehn singled sharply to center field and when the center fielder bobbled it, Cody Carlson scampered home with the first run. John Edwardsen slapped a seeing-eye single between first and second that plated Rehn with the second run.
It was obvious Niemi was going to try pitching by committee as Dary threw only one and one-third innings but had already tossed 32 pitches by his departure.
The Knights scored again in the fifth inning when the Devils made two throwing errors and Dane VanDenHeuval crossed the plate.
After Ironwood's two hits in the first inning, their sophomore pitcher, John Edwardsen, held the Devils to two hits the rest of the way. He walked one and whiffed seven Devils.
The lefty did not throw hard and looked hittable the whole game.
"He's (Edwardsen) the toughest kid on the team," Adams said. "He doesn't get rattled and he gets stronger as the game goes along. He's got movement on his ball for a lefty and was really mixing up his stuff."
Niemi said Edwardsen kept the Red Devils off-balance with his curve and Ironwood likes to hit faster rather than slower pitchers.
Norway (11-8) heads to Rogers City for regional play Saturday to face the winner out of district 99.
"I'm pretty proud of how we handled the final," Adams said. "We played back-to-back, so that is always worrisome, especially after an emotional victory in the first game. But the kids came out very business like and played great defense. We did just enough on offense."
In their semifinal against Stephenson, Norway rallied from a one-run deficit in their final at-bat, defeating the Eagles 8-7.
Norway, the home team, led 6-2 entering the seventh against Stephenson before the Eagles rallied to take a one-run lead. But the Knights answered. Edwardsen led off with a single and moved to third when Austin Grayvold doubled. Taylor Bonetti singled home Edwardsen, and Bryce Grayvold brought in Grayvold with the winning run with a sacrifice fly behind second.
"The kids showed a lot of character to be able to do that after blowing a four-run lead," Adams said.
Norway tagged Stephenson for four runs in the first. Mike Faull, Dane VanDenHeuvel and Cody Carlson all provided RBI hits.
An RBI triple by Grayvold in the second made 5-1. Bryce Grayvold upped the score to 6-2 in the sixth after walking and scoring on a hit by Carlson.
Two walks and an error ignited the Eagles rally in the seventh, chasing Norway pitcher Faull. Faull had six strikeouts and was charged with four earned runs. Edwardsen wound up the winner.
"Mike Faull pitched a very good game," Adams said. "We didn't help him the seventh."
Carlson finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs, and Grayvold was 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple.
"Austin Grayvold and Cody Carlson were huge," Adams said.
Ironwood defeated North Central 2-0 in the semifinal.