NORWAY—There’s nothing like a shining district championship trophy to put a balm on the wounds of a difficult regular season.
So who could blame West Iron County girls basketball Coach Joe Serbentas and his players for entertaining that soothing possibility?
Despite a five-win regular season, the Wykons knew they had a good shot at securing the program’s fourth consecutive district title.
The Class C District 95 draw pitted the Wykons against a 2-18 Iron Mountain squad in the opener, with a potential pairing against a Norway team they’d beaten twice in the regular season in the final.
But all those dreams vanished Feb. 26 in a 51-41 loss to the Mountaineers. The Wykons (5-14) were unable to overcome 27% shooting and Iron Mountain’s post tandem of Elli McCole and Katie Brule, as their 2013-14 season ended in disappointment.
“I thought we felt confident that we could beat Iron Mountain,” senior Cassi Pellizzer said. “And we definitely thought we could beat Norway, too. But obviously we came up short.”
Norway eventually captured the title by defeating Iron Mountain 49-37 in the Feb. 28 district final.
Though the Wykons struggled to hit shots all evening, they built a 23-16 third-quarter lead, mostly on the back of guard Alexis Golfis. The 5-9 junior scored seven points to help the Wykons establish a 9-4 lead after the opening quarter and registered 12 by halftime, as WIC took a 17-16 edge into the break.
But soon after Golfis knocked down a free throw to put her team up by seven with 6:15 left in the third, the Mountaineers wrestled away control. Iron Mountain embarked on a 16-4 run to take a 32-27 lead heading into the final eight minutes, and West Iron never regained the lead.
Playing with two posts the entire game, the Mountaineers’ size was simply too much for the Wykons, especially with 5-9 senior Meg Miatech in foul trouble most of the night. McCole and Brule combined for 29 points and powered Iron Mountain to a 48-33 rebounding edge.
“It affected me a lot, having to sit out and watch,” said Miatech, who scored all seven of her points in the second half. “When I went back into the game, I definitely felt off.”
Pellizzer, the other tallest starter at 5-9, also battled foul difficulties in the second half and eventually fouled out late in her final game with six points.
The foul trouble not only hurt defensively, but offensively as well. Facing a 2-3 zone throughout, West Iron shot just 7-of-27 in the first half and 9-for-32 in the second.
“It seemed like we could just not get any rhythm,” Serbentas said. “There were so many fouls by us that it was slowing the pace of the game down, and I wanted to push the ball against them.
“I felt that that’s where our advantage was. But the fouls just seemed to bring the game to a slugfest.”
That was exactly what the Mountaineers wanted. Iron Mountain called up Brule to the varsity for the tournament after a full year on the JV team, and the 6-footer responded with physical play and a fine touch. She scored a team-high 15 points and hit 7-of-8 from the foul line, while McCole buried 10-of-14 from the stripe.
West Iron was whistled for 21 fouls, while drawing just 12 from the Mountaineers.
After Iron Mountain established the pace it preferred, Serbentas tried to speed up the game with a 3-2 half-court trap. The switch forced back-to-back turnovers early in the fourth quarter, but the Mountaineers eventually settled down, got the ball to the baseline and used its size advantage for buckets and more free throws.
In all, Iron Mountain connected on 24-of-35 from the line, while West Iron managed just 5-of-12.
“They got a lot of second and third shots,” Serbentas said. “And even when they didn’t make the shots, they’re getting to the line.”
Meanwhile, the Wykons could not knock down the mid-range shots or 3-pointers available against IM’s 2-3 zone. Serbentas liked his team’s shot selection, just not the results.
“This team has been getting a lot of good looks most nights,” he said. “You’ve got to make some threes against a zone.”
That is at the top of the agenda looking forward for the West Iron program. The Wykons will look to return nine of their 12 players from this year’s roster, and Serbentas wants all his players to key in on their accuracy.
“We have to get in this summer and work on our shooting,” Serbentas said. only five wins leaves a little sour taste in your mouth.”
Still, they will have to move forward without Miatech, Pellizzer and forward Brittanie Barry.
Barry said her time with this team has helped her on the court and off.
“It’s helped me develop relationships with people that I probably wouldn’t have,” she said. “It made us all closer as a group.”
“I was on varsity for four years and this year was probably the year that we most clicked together,” Miatech added. “I was just really glad that in our last year everyone was able to work together. I just wish it would have been a different outcome”
Wykons 9 8 10 14 -- 41
M’tneers 4 12 16 19 -- 51
WYKONS – Angeli 1-8 0-0 2, C. Pellizzer 3-5 0-0 6, Miatech 3-12 1-2 7, L. Pellizzer 0-4 2-4 2, Golfis 9-26 1-4 23, Mazurek 0-2 0-0 0, Kinner 0-2 1-2 1, Harris-Hoogenboom 0-0 0-0 0, Barry 0-0 0-0 0. Piwarski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-59 5-12 41.
MOUNTAINEERS – Herman 2-3 0-2 4, McCole 2-6 10-14 14, Pirkola 1-5 1-3 3, Gendron 0-1 0-0 0, Khor 2-9 3-4 8, Feira 2-9 3-5 7, Brule 4-6 7-7 15. Totals 13-39 24-35 51.
3-point field goals – Wykons 4-19 (Golfis 4-14, Angeli 0-2, Kinner 0-2, L. Pellizzer 0-1), Mountaineers 1-9 (Khor 1-6, Feira 0-2, Herman 0-1). Fouls (fouled out) – Wykons 21 (C. Pellizzer, Mazurek), Mountaineers 12. Rebounds – Wykons 33, Mountaineers 48. Turnovers – Wykons 11, Mountaineers 20.