Knights heading into districts on high note


Sports Writer

NORWAY – A spark from Norway’s senior reserves helped spill Ishpeming and snap an eight-game losing streak Thursday.

The Knights’ senior subs, playing in their final regular season home game, provided a boost and kept things close in the 56-50 Mid-Peninsula Conference boys basketball decision.

“We played with a lot more energy tonight,” Norway Coach Ben Leiker said. “The seniors were excited for this game.

“We had our starting lineup with kids that had never started before. They were really determined to keep us in this game and they did.”

Leiker promised Mike Zygiel, Riley Johnson, Dan Bal, Peter Fontana and Grant Merrill they would play the entire first quarter.”

Zygiel netted eight points in the first quarter but Ishpeming managed a 13-12 edge. Zygiel added five more in the second quarter as the Knights held a 28-21 halftime advantage.

“That gave everybody else energy to see how hard they worked,” Leiker said. “Everybody else was excited to play and it showed out there.”

Alex Briones bagged 14 points to pace the Hematites. Dylan Mackey and Bobby Zhulkie each added 10. Joe Lyle, who scored 19 points in the Hematites’ 47-29 early January win over the Knights, did not play.

“Norway had not been playing well but they played well tonight,” Ishpeming Coach John Tiziani said. “Coach Leiker said it was their best game. So give them credit.

“It seemed like something always happened where we could never get over that hump.”

Norway’s John Grayvold Sr. came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points and Zygiel wound up with 15. They each nailed three triples. Isaac Bray, another senior, chipped in 11.

Tiziani called Grayvold one of the MPC’s better players and Zygiel as a “big player” and “instrumental” to the Knights.

“It’s easy to be excited when shots are going down,” Leiker said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen shots go down and it was nice to see.”

Randy Mueller, one of eight inspired Norway seniors, also drew praise from Leiker.

“Randy Mueller scored two points but he was a key player,” Leiker said. “He was one of our hustle guys and defended very well. He had a couple steals and rebounds that we really needed.”

A Mueller putback with 4:53 remaining built Norway’s lead to 47-39. Mueller also registered a steal in the final two minutes.

“You can’t fault their effort,” Tiziani said of his Hematites. “I really admired that they kept fighting.

“We two or three terrible turnovers when the score was down to four. I thought we played hard defense but their zone slowed us down. We were much more productive in the second half.”

Norway, operating with a 3-2 match-up zone, allowed Ishpeming no closer than four points in the second half. When the Hematites pulled to within 50-46 at 1:21, the Knights followed with six free throws.

Briones registered Ishpeming’s final seven points.

“This team easily could have quit with the record and the year that we’ve had,” Leiker said. “They never showed any signs of quitting out there which was really nice to see.”

Both teams start Class C district tournament play next week. Norway (5-13 overall, 3-9 MPC) hosts Stephenson on Monday and Ishpeming (8-11, 5-7) travels to Gwinn on Wednesday to face the Modeltowners.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and know all the guys on the team are too,” Tiziani said.

Norway hopes the win will provide momentum for the postseason.

“We needed to put a solid game together and start shooting the ball,” said Leiker, who figured the law of averages would eventually go his team’s way. “We’ve been shooting so poorly that we’re going to shoot better than we’re supposed to one of these games.

“Hopefully, tonight will carry into next week.”

Ishpeming defeated Norway 52-28 in the junior varsity game.

Ishpeming 13 8 11 18 – 50

Norway 12 16 13 15 – 56

ISHPEMING: Briones 14, Mackey 10, Laurin 5, Zhulkie 10, DeCaire 6, Corp 5. FT: 9-14. F: 16. Fouled out: Mackey (:30, 4th).

NORWAY: A. Grayvold 1, Zygiel 15, Mueller 2, Bal 8, Bray 11, J. Grayvold Jr. 17, Merrill 2. FT: 11-21. F: 17.

3-point FG: Zygiel 3, Bray, J. Grayvold Jr. 3, Briones 2, Mackey, Zhulkie 10. FG shooting: Ishpeming 18-54, Norway 19 made. Rebounding: Ishpeming 27 (Corp 8).