Mountaineers punch ticket to Breslin

Turn back Sanford Meridian to reach state semifinals for first time since 1994

Adam Niemi/The Daily News Photos IRON MOUNTAIN’S MARCUS JOHNSON puts up a shot between Sanford Meridian Early College’s Gabe Brady, left, and Brett Barriger during a MHSAA Division 3 state quarterfinal Tuesday in Petoskey.

PETOSKEY — Hello, Breslin.

Iron Mountain beat Sanford Meridian Early College 61-56 in a Division 3 quarterfinal Tuesday, earning its first state semifinal birth since 1994.

The Mountaineers (26-0) face Detroit Edison Public School (19-7) at noon Eastern time Thursday at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

Erie-Mason (23-2) faces Pewamo-Westphalia (26-0) at 2 p.m. in the other semifinal. The state final is 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

It’s Iron Mountain’s first trip to the Breslin Center since 1994, head coached by current assistant Richard Olds. Head coach Bucky Johnson was the junior varsity coach that year.

IRON MOUNTAIN’S FOSTER WONDERS shoots over Sanford Meridian Early College’s Trey Plichta during a Division 3 state quarterfinal on Tuesday in Petoskey.

“It’s been the goal all along, but we kind of changed our approach this year,” Johnson said of the team reaching the Breslin Center. “We just took it one game at a time this year. That’s all we did. We focused on the next game. The kids stuck to the game-plan. Sanford Meridian played a little bit different defense.”

The Mountaineers staked a 10-point lead two separate times and still, the Mustangs (23-2) stayed within reach. In the first half, Meridian dissolved a 10-point lead with a tying bucket at the halftime buzzer.

“We had a hard time putting them away,” Johnson said. “We kind of got a little stagnant and they were pushing us up towards half-court. Then we attacked and once we attacked it broke the game wide open.”

It was the kind of night for Meridian that offensive momentum wasn’t a problem, it was just getting enough stops on defense.

“I felt like we could score but when we didn’t score, they kept scoring,” Sanford Meridian Early College head coach Mitchell Bohn said. “I felt like that was always the issue. It was tough. They’re good.”

Bohn said he thought the key play of the game was after Iron Mountain’s Charlie Gerhard missed a one-and-one with a 57-53 lead and 56 seconds left. Foster Wonders grabbed the rebound, which helped Iron Mountain milk the clock.

But the Mustangs made it interesting.

A 3-pointer by Brett Barriger made it a 57-56 game with 31 seconds remaining. The Mustangs followed the play with a timeout.

Wonders was fouled and made both free throws to make it 59-56 with 0:21 seconds left.

Lucas Lueder appeared to go up for a 3-point shot in the closing seconds but Johnson tipped the ball and grabbed it as Lueder fell. Johnson was fouled on the shot attempt and made both free throws to seal the game.

The win brought the Mountaineers full circle from a state quarterfinals loss to Maple City Glen Lake a year ago in the same gym.

“We did talk about it,” Johnson said. “Last year we got off to a terrible start. This year we got off to a good start.”

Iron Mountain led a bucket ahead for most of the first half until ballooning an 11-point lead about halfway through the second quarter on the strength of Wonders’ three 3-pointers.

Wonders and Marcus Johnson led Iron Mountain with 25 points apiece.

But the Mustangs didn’t quit, chipping away at the lead while forcing misses on the Mountaineers’ offensive end. A bucket in the final seconds of the first half tied the game at 28-all.

The third quarter was a different story.

“We got off to a pretty good start in the third quarter,” Johnson said. “I know we outscored them in that quarter. It’s been a good quarter for us all year. I’m just really proud of these kids. It’s been a goal for them. It’s been a dream and they’re making it come true.”

Iron Mountain outscored Meridian 20-10 in the third quarter. Johnson’s 10 points paced the Mountaineers, while Foster Wonders added six points.

Meridian seemed to seek a rotation advantage by substituting three players midway through the first quarter. The Mustangs ended up using eight players in the game while the Mountaineers never went to the bench, despite three fouls apiece to Wonders and Jaden Vicenzi. Coach Johnson said he never felt wavered by his team’s 10 fouls.

“They know how to handle that,” he said.

Lucas Lueder led Meridian with 20 points. Trey Plichta added 11 points before fouling out late in the fourth. Gabe Brady also had 11 points.

The Mustangs sank 14 3-pointers in a regional final win over Oscoda.

“It’s tough,” Lueder told the Midland Daily News. “We really wanted it. We played hard. They were a really good team. They made tough shots.”

Bohn had immediate revelations after the game.

“We should’ve went inside more. We’re very diverse. We can dribble at you and score. We can shoot 3s. I felt we should’ve went inside to Gabe more,” Bohn said. “They didn’t have an answer for him. They didn’t want to double him because of our three-point shooting I think. That’s the only regret I have from today is that we didn’t go inside more.”

Iron Mountain 14 14 20 13 — 61

Sanford Meridian 13 15 10 18 — 56

SANFORD MERIDIAN EARLY COLLEGE (56): Lueder 20, Plitchta 11, Brady 11, Barriger 10, Stockford 2, White 2. FT: 5-7. F: 12 (Plichta fouled out). 3PT: Lueder 1, Plichta 1, Barriger 1.

IRON MOUNTAIN (61): Johnson 25, Wonders 25, Gerhard 5, Vicenzi 4, Feira 2. FT: 10-12. F: 10. FG: 23-47. 3PT: 5-12 (Wonders 3, Johnson 2). Rebounds: 22 (Wonders 7). Assists: 10 (Johnson 5). Steals: 5 (Johnson 2). Turnovers: 7.