West Iron’s Caleb Pellizzer and Adam Newby (22) try to corner Hancock’s Luke Paul in his backcourt during their game Feb. 24.
IRON RIVER—Nothing less than the championship of the West Pac Conference was at stake when Hancock visited West Iron’s boys team Feb. 24 … and ran away with the title.
The Wykons’ offense fizzled out in the second quarter, and an aggressive rally in the second half couldn’t prevent the Bulldogs from leaving with a 58-50 win.
With the victory, Hancock takes over first place with a 5-2 record, while West Iron falls to 5-3. The Bulldogs will clinch the title if they defeat L’Anse before the home fans Feb. 28.
Overall, the Wykons are 12-7 overall going into their season-ending game at Ishpeming Feb. 28—their final tune-up before the boys District 95 tournament in Iron Mountain, which starts March 5.
There were no signs in the first quarter that the Wykons’ offensive engine would blow up later. Nice pass plays (Caleb Pellizzer to Tyler Stafford, Austin Waara to Ryan Richard) got the Wykons two early buckets. Pellizzer’s three and Waara’s steal and lay-up gave the Wykons an early 9-4 lead.
But Hancock’s Shayne Wendling turned the game around, starting with a scoring drive down the line. He then hit a three from the left, then a three from the right corner. A jumper from the left baseline wrapped up his 10-point burst that put the Bulldogs in front 14-11 after one.
The Wykons’ defensive dam leaked badly early in the second quarter. Shane Raasio drove in for a hoop. Luke Paul knocked in a three, and Wendling hit another from the right. Now Hancock led 21-11.
WIC’s Andy Ridolphi converted a pass from Waara, but Bulldog buckets by Paul and Wendling made it 25-13. Baskets by Pellizzer and Ridolphi tried to stem the tide, but Hancock went into halftime with a 29-17 lead.
“We just didn’t execute,” Coach Dan Schive said later. “I don’t know why we got away [from our game].”
Too many missed shots and turnovers plagued the Wykon offense during its six-point second quarter. After halftime, West Iron’s offense worked better, but Raasio scored eight points to build Hancock’s lead to 15 (41-26) with three minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s when West Iron turned up the defense and knocked the Bulldogs off-balance. Pellizzer and Adam Newby scored during a 7-0 West Iron rally that cut Hancock’s lead to 41-33 after three.
That aggressive defense, though, led to the Wykons picking up fouls at an amazing rate. By the end of the quarter, Tyler Stafford had fouled out, and Hancock was already in the double bonus.
The fourth quarter was mostly fouls and free throws, downshifting the game’s pace into crawler gear. West Iron cut Hancock’s lead to five three times (on two Waara free throws, on Alex Ralston’s jumper, and on Pellizzer’s three-point shot). But they couldn’t get any closer.
Wendling hit two shots from the floor in the fourth, and Raasio also got a bucket. Beyond that, Hancock was 11 of 24 at the line in the final eight minutes—a result of 12 more Wykon fouls. By the time it was over, Pellizzer, Waara and Richard had also fouled out, and the Wykons were down to five warm bodies.
Pellizzer scored eight for the Wykons in the fourth quarter, and Waara had six. But that was negated by Wendling and Raasio, who both scored seven.
“On the good side,” said Schive, “we didn’t lay down. We fought back—we were down 15 but fought back. I told them, ‘Don’t hang your heads. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you hope it will.’”
For the game, Pellizzer led the Wykons with 21 points, Waara scored 11, and Ridolphi had six. Wendling and Raasio led the Bulldogs with 23 and 22 points, respectively, and Paul scored eight.
The most impressive stats of all: Fifty total fouls (32 by the Wykons) and 56 free throws (36 by Hancock). Ugly game? One of the ugliest in years.
But it wasn’t ugly for the Bulldogs. They got the job done. They won on West Iron’s floor and are now a win away from the West Pac title.
• The Wykons complete the regular season at Ishpeming on Feb. 28.
After that, West Iron will play Norway on Monday, March 5, on the first night of the Class C District 95 tournament in Iron Mountain. Stephenson and IM are the night’s opening act, tipping off at 6 p.m., with the Wykons and Knights scheduled for 7:45.
The two Monday winners play for the district title at 7 p.m. on March 7.
During the season, the Wykons beat the Knights by 29 at home in late December and by two at Norway on Jan. 27. They lost to IM by seven at home Jan. 31 and did not play Stephenson.
Through last week’s games, Iron Mountain is 14-5, West Iron is 12-7, Norway is 5-14 and Stephenson is 6-11.
Bulldogs 14 15 12 17 -- 58
Wykons 11 6 16 17 -- 50