It’s crowded in the lane, as Iron Mountain’s Nate Secinaro grabs a rebound, battling against West Iron’s Andy Ridolphi and Ryan Richard.
IRON MOUNTAIN—Bad luck struck West Iron’s boys team last week at the worst possible time—during the District 95 tournament—when their top player, senior Caleb Pellizzer, injured his back during a 65-35 semifinal win against Norway March 5.
Pellizzer was at much less than full strength when the Wykons faced Iron Mountain in the district title game March 7, and the powerful Mountaineers had few problems earning a 49-28 win and a trip to this week’s regional tournament in Escanaba.
West Iron finishes its year with a 14-8 record.
The West Pac Conference player of the year fell hard during the Norway game. Leading up to the game with the Mountaineers, he was treated with therapy, electric shock and muscle relaxers.
“It just wouldn’t loosen up,” Coach Dan Schive said later. “He could barely walk yesterday. He told me on the bus he was about 60 percent—but then when he tried to jump before the game, it hurt too much.”
It may not have mattered—IM defeated the Wykons by 10 at the Greenlund Gym on Jan. 31—but West Iron did its best in the title game. Despite Pellizzer’s injury, the Wykons stayed even in the first quarter, 11-11, with five different players scoring.
Alex Ralston’s driving basket early in the second quarter put WIC ahead 13-11, but that was their last point for a while. Alex Herman’s steal and fast break put IM ahead, and he followed with a jumper from the lane. Nate Secinaro put in a rebound, and Herman’s steal and jumper put IM up 19-13. Pellizzer’s bucket ended IM’s 10-0 run, but the home team led 21-15 at halftime.
“I thought we played really good defense in the first half,” Schive said. “We just couldn’t get into the flow offensively, because a lot of what we do goes through Caleb’s energy. When he can’t go more than 50 percent …”
A free throw and Andy Ridolphi’s baseline shot cut the lead to 21-18 early in the second half. But that was the Wykons’ last basket until early in the fourth quarter, as IM grabbed a firm hold of the district trophy with a 15-1 rally.
Tyler Thomann, held to four points in the first half, broke out with 11 in the second half and led IM with 15. Herman scored 10, and Secinaro had eight.
All season, Schive said, the Wykons didn’t have an answer to Thomann. This time, Ridolphi defended Thomann—but while Ridolphi is a fairly close match sizewise, he is a sophomore with just a few games of varsity experience.
For West Iron, Adam Newby led with seven, and Tyler Stafford had five—both scored four in the fourth quarter. Pellizzer scored four in the first half but was shut out after halftime. IM also had a big edge in free throws: 18 of 23 to WIC’s 4 of 12.
Against Norway in the tourney opener, the Wykons had no problems at all. Early baskets by Ridolphi, Stafford and Pellizzer gave West Iron an early 6-0 lead, and they never let the Knights get closer than three after that.
Austin Waara’s two and Newby’s three gave the Wykons a nine-point lead (18-9) after the first quarter, and WIC really put the hammer down in the second. Three straight Pellizzer baskets and two at the end by Ridolphi highlighted marked a 17-2 quarter. WIC led 35-11 at halftime.
The lead grew to 27 early in the third quarter. After Newby and Stafford both picked up their third fouls, the Knights started a rally—Brady Grayvold scored seven in the third frame and Norway got to within 17, but West Iron ended the game with a 15-2 run marked by two Stafford hoops and Jared Saigh hitting a three, a two and two free throws in the final minute.
Balanced scoring was the key: Waara led with 15 points, followed by Pellizzer’s 14, Ridolphi’s 12, Stafford’s eight and Saigh’s seven. For Norway, Grayvold led with 14 points.
Top stats: Waara, eight assists; Pellizzer, six assists and six steals; Stafford, seven rebounds; Ridolphi, five boards.
WIC shot 25 of 48. “I’ll take it,” said the coach. “If we can go to the hole and keep hitting open people, good things usually happen.”
Two nights later, it was all over. “I played two sophomores and two juniors,” Schive said. “They [the Mountaineers] got seven seniors. They’ve paid their dues. I guess they got it coming.”
Pellizzer’s injury was the last behind-the-scenes drama the Wykons had to deal with during the season.
“Heart and character sometimes are more important than wins,” Schive said. “When we start the season, I tell the kids, I really don’t care if you become better basketball players, as long as you become better human beings and have a good time.
“For this team to go 14-8 … I couldn’t be any more proud of these kids.”
Wykons 18 17 9 21 -- 65
Knights 9 2 12 12 -- 35
Wykons 11 4 4 9 -- 28
M’taineers 11 10 12 16 -- 49