Iron Mountain Dream Season Continues

March 14, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – “Living this dream.”

Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson put special emphasis on those words Thursday afternoon.

He may have been pointing out the present tense of “living” after his Mountaineers ended the season for 2018 Class C champion Detroit Edison. Or maybe the “dream” as his team earned a shot to play for its first MHSAA boys basketball championship since winning the Upper Peninsula-only bracket in 1939.

Iron Mountain faced a tall task in the day’s first Division 3 Semifinal, even for a team that hasn’t tasted defeat this season. But the Mountaineers held off Edison 60-57 in their first Semifinals appearance since 1994.

“There’s not a lot of U.P. teams that get to come down here and experience this,” Iron Mountain junior guard Foster Wonders said. “To come down here and win too is something special. We take pride in that. It’s been unbelievable.”

Iron Mountain (27-0) will face also-unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.

The Mountaineers have enjoyed quite a visit to East Lansing. On Wednesday, they spent an hour with 1973 graduate Tom Izzo, then watched his Michigan State team practice Thursday morning.

And all of that set up the Semifinal they weren’t necessarily expected to win – despite the perfect record they brought downstate. Edison (18-9) had more losses than all but one team making the trip to Breslin this weekend, but all seven to in-state opponents had come against Division 1 and 2 teams, and the Pioneers had just toppled top-ranked Flint Beecher in their Quarterfinal.

Edison then led most of the first quarter, carrying a seven-point advantage into the second.

“In the U.P. you don’t really see any athletes like that, with the length and athleticism they had,” Iron Mountain junior guard Marcus Johnson said.

But he and his teammates had a few surprises for Edison as well.

First was a game plan to attack the paint, which resulted in two first-quarter fouls for Pioneers’ 6-foot-6 junior Bryce George. He ended up limited to only 15 minutes for the game, with eight points and six rebounds that could’ve been a lot more with more time on the floor. He had four points and four rebounds before picking up that second foul 5:11 into the game.

Next, Iron Mountain played only six players, and four all 32 minutes. Edison had 12 players with at least four minutes of action, but couldn’t wear the Mountaineers down.

Not surprising was how Iron Mountain won. Johnson was averaging 23.3 points per game entering this week, and sophomore guard Foster Wonders was averaging 23.9. Wonders had 28 on Thursday, making nearly half his shots from the floor and 9-of-10 free-throw tries. Johnson had 23 points, with five 3-pointers and perfection on six free-throw attempts.

“One thing we knew about this team is they were winners. If a team has gone all season not losing a basketball, game, you have to respect them to the utmost,” Edison coach Brandon Neely said. “These guys play six guys, and one guy played four minutes. The thing about this team is they play so well as a team because they know where guys are. Teams like that are a great example to learn from.

“They played like champions.”

Sophomore guard Ralph Johnson came off the bench to lead Edison with 14 points, and senior forward Brian Taylor was held to 11 points and seven rebounds. Taylor, the team’s leading scorer coming into this week, was also its lone senior this season.

Edison shot a game-high 47 percent from the floor during the fourth quarter and got within 45-44 with 3:26 to play. But Iron Mountain’s “makers” – as Bucky Johnson called them, spinning off the “shooters shoot” phrase – had connected on 64 percent of their shots during the third quarter and made 50 percent during the fourth, including both shots from the floor and 10 straight free throws after Edison pulled within a point.

“Coach Izzo told us some people like it, some people love it and some people live it,” Marcus Johnson said. “And we want to live it. It’s an awesome feeling to get to the championship, and we want to get it home.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Iron Mountain celebrates Thursday its first Semifinal win since 1939. (Middle) Jake Dumais (32) battles Edison’s Brian Taylor for a loose ball.

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.