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Mountaineers’ opponent carries a strong resume

LANSING — The Iron Mountain boys basketball team will play for the MHSAA Division 3 state championship today, facing highly regarded Flint Beecher.

The game tips off at 2 p.m. Central time at the Breslin Center and will be televised on Bally Sports Detroit (formally Fox Sports Detroit) and broadcast on WJNR Frog Country 101.5.

Iron Mountain (19-0) is looking to become the first U.P. boys basketball team to bring a state championship back across the Mackinac Bridge since head coach Adam Mercier and the North Central Jets won three consecutive Class D titles in 2015-2017.

The Mountaineers reached the Division 3 title game in 2019, losing 53-52 to Pewamo-Westphalia in a controversial finish described as “officiating lunacy” by Detroit Free writer Mick McCabe. The Mountaineers hope to change that narrative to a positive one this afternoon.

Flint Beecher (15-1) competes in the Genesee Area Conference. The Bucs’ lone loss was to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 78-63, Beecher’s second game of the season.

The following game, the Bucs were on the winning end of a 73-68 double-overtime tussle with Ferndale — and haven’t lost since. Other than a 65-63 win over Flint Carman-Ainsworth in the middle of the season, Beecher hasn’t had a game where the outcome was in question, including in the postseason.

The Bucs being called a perennial power may be an understatement. They have five Class C state championships since 2012: in 2012, 2013 and 2015-17. They were state finalists in 2008 and also in 2003.

Current head coach Mike Williams was at the helm for three of the five state titles, and has a record of 336-93 over 17 years.

“They’re well coached, they’re very versatile, quick and good ball handlers,” said Iron Mountain coach Harvey “Bucky” Johnson in Thursday’s semifinal post-game press conference. “In my personal opinion, I thought Flint Beecher was the No. 1 team in the state all season in Division 3. So I guess it can be said that they are the team to beat and we are the underdogs.”

Beecher has two players that Iron Mountain’s Foster Wonders is familiar with, having played against one of them in AAU basketball.

“We’re going to have our hands full with Keyon Menifield Jr. and Carmelo Harris,” he said. “They’re both really good players, and we’re going to have to have a solid game plan. I think we’re up to the challenge, everyone on our team loves to battle and we’re going to go for it.”

Wonders added that he’s looking forward to playing against Menifield Jr. again today.

In Thursday’s press conference, Johnson was asked by a Lower Peninsula reporter what his emotions are getting back to the state championship game, after the heartbreaking outcome of the 2019 title game.

“I have been a coach at Iron Mountain for 31 years, 21 as head basketball coach,” said Johnson. “Believe me when I say this — it says ‘Family’ across the front of our shirts, that’s because we are like a family. We love one another, this group has played sports together for so long, all the way back to Little League baseball — we prepare and play for Mountaineers everywhere. That’s my emotion.”

Win or lose, making it to play at the Breslin Center was a goal of this team and these players all season long.

The Mountaineers will look to become the first Division 3 (Class C) team in the U.P. to win a boys basketball state championship since Tom Russo guided Negaunee to the 2000 state championship. U.P. Sports Hall of Fame coach Jerry Racine led Ishpeming to the Class C crown in 1995.

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