No more doubting these Knights

NORWAY – Norway, of all teams, won the Class C District 95 boys basketball championship Wednesday.

These same Knights, once mired in an eight-game losing streak over the last two months of the regular season, stunned West Iron County 50-45 Wednesday.

“Unreal, especially with this season,” said Knights senior John Grayvold Sr., who scored a team-high 20 points. “It was real nice to do the Norway tradition and win the district.”

Norway (7-13) recorded a 10th district title under Coach Ben Leiker, who admitted to having some doubts about his squad just a couple weeks ago. But the senior-driven Knights dumped Ishpeming to end the regular season and started the district by beating Stephenson.

“I don’t know what clicked,” Leiker said. “It had nothing to do with me.

“As a group they decided to change their attitude. I don’t know if it was pure seniors (in the Ishpeming game) or what it was that changed them.

“But since then they have been possessed.”

West Iron, which beat Norway twice during the regular season, battled to a 19-19 halftime draw. The Knights pulled away midway through the fourth quarter, taking a 48-38 lead after nine straight free throws.

“God bless ’em, they’ve (Norway) had a rough year and they pulled it together,” said Coach Dan Schive, who piloted the Wykons to a share of the West PAC title. “This is going to take a long time to get over for us. This is three years in a row this has happened.”

In the other two district finals, Iron Mountain defeated West Iron in 2012 and Norway prevailed in 2011.

“You can’t turn the ball over against a team that’s hot,” Schive said. “We turned the ball over too much and we didn’t get the ball into the middle of the lane. We just didn’t get the ball where it was supposed to be.”

Norway’s match-up zone defense was geared to stop guard Austin Waara, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half. The Wykon standout was limited to two field goals in the second half after sizzling in the first.

“They were putting more pressure on him on top,” Schive said of the ball-hawking Knights.

Leiker, who thought Waara played better against his Knights than anybody this season, wanted to have a body in front of the WIC guard at all times.

“I thought we did a great job of staying in front of him,” Leiker said. “In the fourth quarter we weren’t going to let him take a shot within five feet of that arc.

“We were going to let someone else beat us. We were fortunate to get away with it.”

The drained Knights, with “nothing left in the tank” according to Leiker, cranked up the defense in the fourth quarter. West Iron went scoreless for a three-minute stretch while Norway notched a 48-38 advantage with 1:10 showing.

“Defensively, that’s the best we’ve played in a long time,” said Leiker, impressed with his team’s quickness, anticipation and discipline in following assignments. “That effort was extreme.”

And to think, Norway lost by 35 points to West Iron on Feb. 11.

“We hustled. We rebounded. We played defense,” said Grayvold when asked about the differences in the two WIC games. “After we beat Ishpeming, I had a strange feeling we were going to win this one.,

“The crowd was fantastic. It was awesome seeing the alums over there (on the sidelines) yelling at us.”

Leiker and the entire Norway team watched video of that past game where the Wykons rolled to a 40-15 halftime lead en route to a 62-27 victory. The Knights focused on keeping Waara from penetrating this time.

“We had good looks and actually defended fairly well, but they weren’t missing,” Leiker said of the previous WIC contest. “They saw they were capable of beating West Iron. They could see if we play better we’re in this game.”

WIC’s Adam Newby tallied 12 points, eight to open the fourth quarter and cut the gap to 39-38 at 4:23. Norway then went on a free throw binge with four from Dan Bal, three from Austin Grayvold and two from John Grayvold.

Norway owned a 16-3 advantage at the free throw stripe.

Schive cited his team for missing too many shots early, making foolish fouls and not capitalizing in the lane.

“We had great practices and it seemed like they were ready to go,” Schive said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well at all.”

Brock Hopkins tacked on seven for the Wykons, including a triple with 12 seconds left to produce the final score.

John Grayvold snapped out of a first-half rut, collecting 16 of his 20 points over the final two quarters.

“I was a little anxious (in the first half),” said the senior forward. “I just wanted to knock down my first shot to get that out of the way.

“I came alive (in the second half) and I was happy about that.”

Austin Grayvold registered nine of his 14 points in the second half. Bal converted five fourth-quarter free throws for a chunk of his eight points. Seniors Isaac Bray, Randy Mueller and Mike Zygiel accounted for the rest of the points, contributed to the defensive gem and helped bring home another district title for the Norway Knights.

Norway moves on Monday to the Class C regional at Escanaba, taking on the winner of the L’Anse district. Ironwood (18-3) or Houghton (13-7) will decide that title Friday.

West Iron 7 12 11 15 – 45

Norway 10 9 17 14 – 50

WEST IRON COUNTY: Ralston 1, Stafford 4, Newby 12, Waara 21, Hopkins 7. FT: 3-4. F: 18. Fouled out: Hopkins (:44, 4th).

NORWAY: A. Grayvold 14, Zygiel 3, Mueller 2, Bal 8, Bray 3, J. Grayvold 20. FT: 16-27. F: 11.

3-point FG: Zygiel, J. Grayvold, Waara 3, Hopkins.