IRON RIVER— Four minutes into their Class C District 95 boys basketball clash March 3, the West Iron County Wykons stared right into the abyss.
Having lost their final three regular-season games by an average of 28 points, the Wykons entered the tournament with wavering confidence. The fact that WIC only won three of its 18 regular-season battles didn’t help, either.
So when the Mountaineers ran out to an 11-0 lead halfway through the opening quarter, the Wykons stood at the precipice and faced the daunting question – do we stand strong and compete, or do we allow all the season’s misfortune to overcome us and walk quietly into that cold March night?
West Iron decided to fight back. Senior Andy Ridolphi sank two open-court layups before Adam Newby drilled a 3-pointer to light a fire under the team and its fans. A 12-0 run followed as the Wykons snatched the lead and played evenly with IM (10-11) for the next 11 minutes until an 18-0 Mountaineer blitz bridging the third and fourth quarters eventually ended West Iron’s season in a 55-41 defeat at Charles Greenlund Gymnasium.
Two days later, Norway captured the district crown with a 39-32 triumph over the Mountaineers.
Despite the defeat, WIC players and coach felt buoyed by the comeback and esprit de corps the squad displayed.
“I’m proud of all of us,” said Newby, who tallied nine points. “We were down, and we could have given up right there. We got a triple and got some momentum. Once we did, we got the bench and all of us guys going.”
Wykon coach Dan Schive said he sensed his team wouldn’t give in to its doubts and Iron Mountain’s quick start.
“They were tight at the beginning, but once you get into a fight and you can see that you can play, the crowd gets involved and the kids on the bench get involved and the kids played with more enthusiasm.”
That they did, outscoring IM 13-7 to start the second quarter on the strength of a 3-pointer by Brandon Olson, a hoop in the post by Ridolphi, an offensive putback by Tylor Capadagli, a driving hoop by Ryan Rogers and a layup by Newby off a fine post feed from Ridolphi.
Ridlophi finished with a team-best 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“I just tried my best to get the ball in the post and either dish it off or look to score,” the 6-foot-2 senior said. “They were a lot bigger than us, but we hung in there.”
With Ridolphi his tallest player and facing IM’s 6-5 dual posts of Zach Caudell and Jacob Thomann, Schive devised a defensive scheme that initially appeared to be a 2-3 zone but morphed into a 1-3-1.
The plan worked well for 2½ quarters. Caudell scored just one point in the first half, and Thomann added two. But the defensive design came with the twin risks of difficult rebounding assignments and surrendering open perimeter shots.
Schive knew he was rolling the dice.
“We knew we were going to have a hard time playing man-to-man against them, because we probably would have gotten Ridolphi into foul trouble because (Caudell) posts up really hard.
“The risk of it was what beat us - that backside rebound.”
Iron Mountain gathered an astounding 27 offensive rebounds in the game, which led to 21 more shots. The Mountaineers shot just 18-of-60 (30 percent) compared to the Wykons’ 15-of-39 (38 percent).
Ridolphi scored what turned out to be the final two buckets of his career midway through the third quarter before Rogers split a pair of free throws to put WIC up 30-28 with 2:21 left in the third.
But shortly after, IM sophomore guard Tanner Huotari locked in from the perimeter, burying back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite the decisive stretch of the game.
Schive held his breath as Huotari, who was playing in just his fifth varsity game, misfired on his first eight 3-point attempts before connecting on the pair that changed the game.
“Every time a three goes up, you’re praying it doesn’t go in,” said Schive, describing the other opening in his defense. “It worked fine until those two big threes.”
Rogers gave the home fans some hope when he hit two threes of his own to trim a 16-point deficit to 10. But IM ran off the next seven points to reestablish control.
The loss ended the prep careers of nine West Iron seniors – Capadagli, Brock Hopkins, Adam and Aren Newby, Colton Pangrazzi, Joe Pisoni, Ridolphi, Rogers and Anthony Rule.
“It was a difficult year,” Adam Newby said. “This game kind of wraps up our season as a whole, where we’re down and we come back. It just doesn’t go our way in the end.”
“Expectations were not going (3-16),” Schive added. “The expectation with nine seniors was that we would have had a little more flow. But I had a hard time getting the team to be a cohesive unit.”
M’tneers 11 11 12 21 -- 55
Wykons 7 13 10 11 -- 41