Boys basketball: Iron Mountain survives physical battle to win district title against Wykons

Mountaineers face Westwood in regional semis

Iron Mountain's Foster Wonders, center, puts up a shot between West Iron's Steven Nelson, left, and Caden Pellizzer, right, during the Class C District 94 championship on Friday, March 9, 2018, in Iron Mountain, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Bloodied and bruised, Iron Mountain persevered through a physical battle against West Iron County and came out as repeat Class C District 94 champions.

With the 61-46 win on Friday night, the Mountaineers (21-1) play against Westwood in the Region 24 semifinal at 5:30 p.m. EST at Marquette High School. The winner plays against either Indian River Inland Lakes or Calumet.

“We kind of figured West Iron would come with a little different defense plan for us and they did,” Iron Mountain head coach Bucky Johnson said. “We actually had it diagrammed exactly like we thought they would do it and that’s exactly what they did. We had their guys who were playing man-to-man on Foster. We had (James) Swanson and (Neil) Tomasoski — Swanson guarding Foster (Wonders) and Tomasoski guarding Marcus (Johnson) — and we didn’t get off to a great start offensively. That’s normal when you’re playing against a defense like that. What got us going is our running game, our pressing game and when we were able to get out in the open court.”

The game started physical. West Iron’s Swanson was hit in the face and played the rest of the game with cotton balls in his nostrils. His teammate Steven Nelson hurt his right elbow in the first half and wore a wrap through the rest of the game. Iron Mountain’s Jaden Vicenzi was cut above the eye. Foster Wonders had a cut on his wrist, forcing him to switch jerseys, from No. 00 to 54.

“It was a physical game, there were bodies on the floor. But that’s a credit to both teams because it means something when guys are going after it that hard,” Coach Johnson said. “I didn’t think there was any dirty play at all. Both teams just played hard. The Wykons were ready for us and we were certainly ready for them. I’m proud of my team and here we go, moving on.”

Marcus Johnson’s 28 points came through blue-collar, downright dirty work. He stepped hit three triples but scored the bulk of his points where he usually does: near the rim.

When Johnson, a 5-foot-8 sophomore attacks the rim against the likes of the Wykons, which include 6-foot-8 Steven Nelson, you wouldn’t think he could do much in the paint.

Yet, with 3:13 left in the game, Johnson drove to the basket.

When he hit the teeth of the defense waiting for him — Nelson and 6-foot-2 Caden Pellizzer — Johnson pulled up and let go a soft shot over their swatting arms. Nelson collided with Johnson as the shot counted and the home crowd erupted with deafening cheers. The and-one gave the Mountaineers a 52-36 lead.

“I just got to be confident in my game. I put the time in and I work very hard on it,” Marcus said. “Before the game I was out here an hour and 45 minutes just putting shots up. If I don’t have confidence, then that’s just going to kill me out on the court and that’s gonna bring me down. If I keep my confidence up I think I can perform pretty well.”

Nelson led the Wykons with 16 point, Pellizzer had 11 and James Swanson had 13. Nelson also had nine rebounds, three blocks and a few monstrous dunks to close out his high school career.

West Iron County kept Iron Mountain to a slow start until a steal and a dunk by Charlie Gerhard gave Iron Mountain its first bucket of the game.

Iron Mountain gained momentum in the second quarter with a reverse layup by Foster Wonders followed by a 3-pointer from Marcus that gave the Mountaineers their first 10-point lead of the game.

West Iron threatened after facing a 28-17 halftime deficit, cutting the score to 28-21 with five minutes remaining.

Jaden Vicenzi responded for Iron Mountain with a 3-pointer to regain a 10-point lead. He did the same thing a couple minutes later to give IM a 40-26 lead, forcing a Wykons timeout.

Marcus was fouled on a 3-pointer and made the and-one in the third quarter. It was a night when West Iron County needed Iron Mountain to miss shots in order to make a run — it didn’t happen. Marcus was 10 of 11 on free throws in the fourth quarter.

“Even at the end of the third when we’re down 14, you’ve got to make a run,” West Iron County head coach Dan Schive said. “The idea was to get it down to six with four minutes to go. We just could never get it under that eight- or nine-point deficit. You’ve gotta make shots. Shots stop runs and they made a couple shots to stop us from getting back into it.”

Schive said the physicality in the opening quarter was too much.

“I’m not sure there should be five guys bleeding in the first quarter. If there’s five guys bleeding in the first quarter, probably should clean it up a little bit,” Schive said. “I’m not saying it was physical one way or the other, it was just a physical game. I’m not sure five guys should bleed in the first quarter. If that’s the way it’s reffed, that’s the way you gotta play it.”

Schive said Nelson’s touches inside were the linchpin of West Iron’s offensive gameplan: feed the ball inside and then kick it outside when the defense tightens on Nelson. It would leave open shots, which the Wykons got, except they struggled to get hot. West Iron shot 20 of 51 for the game including 3 of 15 on 3-pointers.

“We knew that that’s where, if we were going to get something done, that’s where it had to get done,” Schive said. “And hopefully they would go down, spend enough attention to Steven where we could kick it to some shooters. We just didn’t make the shots as much as we had to when we got the kick.”

West Iron 10 7 13 16 — 46

Iron Mountain 12 16 17 16 — 61

WEST IRON COUNTY (46): S. Nelson 16, Swanson 13, Pellizzer 11, Williams 4, Tomasoski 2. FT: 4-9. F: 17. FG: 20-51. 3PT: 3-15 (Pellizzer 1, Swanson 1, Williams 1). Rebounds: 22 (S. Nelson 9). Steals: 4. Assists: 10 (Tomasoski 4). Turnovers: 9. Blocks: 5 (S. Nelson 3).

IRON MOUNTAIN (61): Johnson 28, Wonders 14, Vicenzi 13, Gerhard 6. FT: 16-18. F: 15. FG: 20-44. 3PT: 7-20 (Johnson 3, Vicenzi 3, Wonders 1). Rebounds: 23 (Wonders 5, Gerhard 5). Assists: 6 (Johnson 4). Turnovers: 5. Steals: 10.