Negaunee wins Round 2 of IM series
IRON MOUNTAIN — After defeating the Negaunee Miners by 30 earlier in the year and taking a quick 13-point lead in Thursday’s rematch, the Iron Mountain Mountaineers seemed poised to waltz to a sweep of their at-times antagonists from the Mid-Peninsula Conference.
But by late in the third quarter, the two boys varsity basketball teams were locked in a 38-all tie and the normal emotions of the heated competitive rivalry broke free.
Players had to be separated after a hard foul by Iron Mountain at halfcourt, the exuberant fans for each side shouted vociferously at players, coaches and referees alike and coaches Harvey “Bucky” Johnson and Dan Waterman, both fiery types themselves, both tried to support their teams and play peacemakers at the same time.
Once things were settled — not calmed down mind you — the teams went back-and-forth before the Miners sank 10 straight free throws down the stretch to defeat the Mountaineers 57-53 at Mountaineer Gym.
In many ways, the game was like watching two brothers who are too alike compete against one another.
“I, our coaches, our players, have such respect for their program and how they operate because we think we’re kind of mirror images,” Waterman said. “We beat teams with discipline, with hustle and with execution.
“So a win down here against a really good team — and I don’t care how young they are, those kids are good players — this was a big win for us.”
While dealing with the disappointment of dropping the game after leading 17-4 late in the first period, Johnson knew he’d coached in a terrific contest.
“It was a great high school basketball game, two teams going at it trying to get ready for the district tournament,” he said. “And Negaunee, they’re well-coached and they take a lot of pride in their program.”
“Just overall a really good game, just came up a little short.”
Oskar Kangas sparked the Mountaineers (15-5) to the quick start with a bucket in the post, a short baseline jumper and layup in transition and a 3-pointer. Watching all that left Waterman thinking he’s been living in a bad dream colored in black-and-gold.
“Like Marcus (Johnson), Foster (Wonders), now Oskar, where does Bucky find these freshmen? Goodness gracious, I mean Oskar dumped (27) at our place and now 31 tonight.”
But there were some black clouds in the sky even though the Mountaineers enjoyed the sunshine of a big early lead. Kangas, Joey Colavecchi and Gerald Sampoll Torres picked up two fouls each in the first quarter, setting up potential foul problems and a Negaunee parade to the foul line later.
In fact, the Miners ended up shooting 16 free throws in the final quarter and hitting 15. That type of foul shooting, plus committing just one turnover in the final period, is what coaches are looking for at this time of year.
“That’s how you close out games and that’s how you win in March,” Waterman said. “That’s a credit to the kids. That’s mental toughness, that’s doing things the right way in practice every day, that’s muscle memory. And I’m proud of them.”
The Miners (14-6) began their comeback in the second quarter when Waterman went to a 2-2-1 three-quarters court press and the Mountaineers committed four consecutive turnovers. By the time Iron Mountain regained its composure with the basketball, its lead had been sliced to one at 17-16.
“We didn’t handle the pressure they put on us to get back in the game, had a couple of people out of position,” Johnson said. “Once we figured that out, then we were able to stem the tide a little bit.”
Iron Mountain scored eight of the final 11 points on a
Negaunee finally tied the game at 31 after a layup by junior forward Brody Bell, but the Mountaineers were able to take a 41-38 edge into the fourth quarter, sparked by a 3-pointer out of a timeout by Reece Kangas.
The Miners took their first lead at 45-43 on two free throws from senior guard Gerald Johnson with 4:30 to play. Iron Mountain answered with five straight, another triple by Reece Kangas and a post-up bucket from brother Oskar.
But shortly after, Negaunee retook the lead and salted the win away at the foul line.
Looking forward, Johnson said he and his staff will not spend much time on the Negaunee loss, but solidifying some things and getting prepared for the winner of the Bark River-Harris versus Gladstone game next Wednesday in a district semifinal at Mountaineer Gym.
“We’re going to practice tomorrow, we’re going to move on and get ready for the few opponents that are up for us,” Johnson said. “I told the kids I’m proud of the season we’ve had up until this point, but we’re going to move forward.”
Jerry DeRoche can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 244, or at email@example.com.