Mountaineer seniors take charge


Sports Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – Luke Zambon, Taylor Huotari and Gerry Pirkola can, finally, say they beat Kingsford in basketball.

The three seniors accounted for all of Iron Mountain’s points in a 51-47 decision over their cross-avenue rival Tuesday.

“For the seniors, I’m happy and proud of them,” Mountaineers coach Bucky Johnson said after the series’ 201st game. “They’ve been great. They had never beat Kingsford before in high school basketball.”

Zambon scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the third quarter; Huotari drained six of eight free throws in the final 92 seconds and made two big steals, and Pirkola shot down a box-and-one defense with back-to-back treys to start the fourth period.

“They had a great game plan and did a good job,” Flivver coach Dan Olkkonen said. “We had a lot of good effort to hang in there.

“We haven’t had a loss in a few weeks here. They have a great record with a tough schedule.”

Flivvers’ Caleb Harrington, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, collected 18 points and 14 rebounds. Aidan Wienke chipped in 10 points.

In January’s Twin City meeting, Kingsford walked off with a 57-43 victory. Johnson saw improvement in rebounding and interior defense.

“We scrapped harder and played harder,” said Johnson, who didn’t have Pirkola (bloody mouth) for a chunk of the first half Tuesday. “We got off to a better start and that was key.”

Iron Mountain posted a 22-18 halftime advantage in the hard-fought rivalry. The Mountaineers, with Zambon red-hot, pulled ahead by seven in the third quarter until the Flivvers closed to 33-31 heading into the fourth.

“Luke Zambon was phenomenal out there,” Johnson said.

Olkkonen was impressed with Zambon’s offensive creativity, citing the 6-2 senior’s ability to drive to the basket or fire from the outside. He tallied eight points in the first game with Kingsford.

“I’ve seen a lot of special players over the years, sometimes it’s been their guys, sometimes it’s our guys,” Olkkonen said. “When he hit those shots the confidence keeps rising. You don’t see a lot of players create. Obviously he has the ability and confidence to do that kind of stuff. He really stepped it up for his team.

“You can’t complain when a guy goes out there and has a great individual performance.”

Kingsford abandoned its usual man defense, going with a box-and-one and 3-2 zone. Iron Mountain, playing a man defense, opened the fourth quarter with a 39-31 lead after Pirkola popped in triples to thwart the box-and-one on Zambon.

“They made it close and cranked up the intensity,” Johnson said. “I thought we answered with pretty high quality shots.

“For the first time seeing a box-and-one, and not practicing against it, I thought we handled it pretty well. Gerry hit two big threes.”

Kingsford shaved the gap to 43-41 after a Lucas Jennings’ triple with 2:23 left. The Flivvers got it down to one on two more occasions, the last with 56 seconds after a Wienke putback.

But the Mountaineers made their free throws – eight of 10 in the fourth quarter.

Huotari flipped in five free throws and came up with two steals over the final 30 seconds. Pirkola chipped in three assists.

“It was a war out there,” Johnson said.

The Mountaineers also reaped 16 rebounds – eight apiece – from senior Paul Brooks and sophomore Jake Thomann.

“A guy like Paul Brooks didn’t score a point but he guarded pretty well, had eight rebounds and he’s 5-8,” Johnson said. “Brooks and Thomann basically did their jobs.”

Jennings and Cole Michaud notched eight points apiece for the Flivvers. Both teams made 11 turnovers.

Iron Mountain (12-4), which leads the series 136-65, hosts Ishpeming on Monday and West Iron County on Tuesday. Kingsford (10-4) entertains Northland Pines of Eagle River, Wis., on Thursday.

Tyler Roberts’ 14 points boosted Kingsford past Iron Mountain 42-35 in the junior varsity game. Mark Beauchamp had 13 for the Mountaineers. The Mountaineer freshmen avenged their only defeat of the year, getting 21 points from Tanner Huotari and 12 from Kyle Johnson in a 47-39 decision. Nick Smith led the Flivvers with 12.

Kingsford 11 7 13 16 – 47

Iron Mountain 12 10 11 18 – 51

KINGSFORD: Jennings 8, C. Harrington 18, Wienke 10, Michaud 8, D. Harrington 3. FT: 10-14. F: 20.

IRON MOUNTAIN: Huotari 16, Pirkola 11, Zambon 24. FT: 13-17. F: 13.

3-pt FG: Huotari, Pirkola 3, Zambon 4, Jennings 2, D. Harrington. FGs: K 17-45, IM 15-39. Reb: K 25 (C. Harrington 14), IM 27 (Brooks 8, Thomann 8).