Girls basketball: Norway edges Iron Mountain 38-36 in opener

Iron Mountain's Riley Poupore (32) goes for a layup as Norway's Karli Stanchina (10) and Haley Clifford (5) and Teiona Fuson (21) defend on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Norway, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

NORWAY — Norway pulled out a 38-36 win against Iron Mountain in a battle of new coaches on Tuesday.

The Knights (1-0), coached by Joe Tinti, found late-game heroics in posting their first win of the season. Haley Clifford took a pass and drove through the lane and scored on a contested shot to give Norway the 38-36 lead with 19 seconds left and a crowd boiling with the pandemonium of a tournament game.

Clifford missed the And-1 free throw, setting Iron Mountain up with a chance of its own to win the game. The Mountaineers (0-1) missed the last-second shot as the buzzer sounded.

“It was a thriller for the first game for both teams. It was nice to get the win,” first-year Norway coach Tinti said. “It was back and forth the whole game. Katelynn Johnson, coming in as a new coach, did a great job preparing her girls.”

Clifford led Norway with 22 points. Jaclyn Bal and Mikayla Faull added six points apiece.

Iron Mountain fell into foul trouble early in the game. The Mountaineers racked up nine team fouls with more than three minutes left in the first half. The fouls kept Iron Mountain from gaining a rhythm. Riley Poupore, Saylor Swartout and Hanna Ellis each had three fouls.

“Second half they played a little bit smarter,” Iron Mountain coach Katelynn Johnson said. “From the get-go they have to play smart otherwise it throws off our whole rotation. It’s hard to get a flow when I got a bunch of girls going in and out, in and out, in and out. That definitely hurt us.”

Riley Poupore led Iron Mountain with 16 points. Saylor Swartout and Hanna Ellis had seven points and five points, respectively.

Tinti said the Knights’ pressure on the Mountaineers spurred many good opportunities even though they didn’t always convert.

“We were able to do what we wanted to with the pressure. We got our hands on a lot of basketballs in the fullcourt game. We made it hard on ourselves — we didn’t complete a lot of shots, especially at close range,” Tinti said. “We kind of made it a little difficult. I have two girls that played with the varsity. This helped to make their identity to start off with a close game. How else would a Norway-Iron Mountain game be?”

Iron Mountain held a 23-21 lead early in the third quarter before Norway responded with a tying bucket and then a 3-pointer by Clifford. The Mountaineers battled back for a 29-26 lead with buckets by Swartout.

Both teams slowed at the end of the third quarter with fatigue after the last four minutes of the quarter was a full-court battle with turnovers leading to fast breaks. A triple by Faith Bal gave Iron Mountain a 32-29 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Clifford tied the game at 32-all with about seven minutes to go. It remained a two-point game all the down to Clifford’s winning layup.

Johnson said the Mountaineers forced shots early in possessions. It was just enough of an edge for Norway to escape with the win.

“Too many forced shots when it doesn’t need to be forced when you can just pull the ball out and try something else again,” Johnson said. “I’ve been trying from day one to ingrain that in their head: if it’s not there, pull it out. That’s something that we didn’t do very well tonight and I think it hurt us.”

Tinti said the win puts a spring in the Knights’ step in the first handful of games before Christmas break.

“We’re going to take this one and prep for West Iron and see what we can do,” Tinti said. “Our goal at Christmas break is to come out as a team that can play against anyone, even if we’re under-matched or whatever it may be. We have a lot of heart.”

Norway hosts West Iron County on Friday.

Iron Mountain plays at West Iron County on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Iron Mountain 7 6 19 4 — 36

Norway 8 9 12 9 — 38

IRON MOUNTAIN (36): Poupore 16, Swartout 7, Ellis 5, Lundholm 4, Bal 2, Stoner 2. FT: 4-14. F: 15. 3PT: Bal 1.

NORWAY (38): Clifford 22, Bal 6, Faull 6, Fuson 2, VanHolla 2. FT: 7-16. F: 13. 3PT: Clifford 2, Bal 1.