IRONWOOD - Ironwood was ready for Bessemer this time.
After losing to the Speedboys in the first matchup last season, Ironwood overcame terrible shooting in the first quarter and a never-say-die Bessemer team for a 67-56 win Thursday night.
"I reminded the boys what Bessemer did to us last year (a 55-51 win) and took us by surprise a little bit," Ironwood coach Pete Lewinski said. On Thursday, "I thought Bessemer gave us all we could handle. I thought they gave us an excellent game and I give credit to Ironwood, my boys, for withstanding their runs. They would not go away. They would not go away."
Both of these teams looked fantastic in a battle of unbeatens Thursday. Bessemer shot tremendously from the outside, 11 of 22. Ironwood took advantage of its size and its returning All-U.P. First Teamer Adam Mackey, who scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Bessemer coach Jim Partanen wasn't surprised his Speedboys competed so well with Ironwood, which is favored to repeat as East Division champions. The Speedboys proved they'll be right there pressuring them all season.
"We think if we can play our game, we can compete with anybody," he said. "I'm not saying we'll beat anybody, but we can compete with anybody."
The Speedboys led the Indianhead Conference game 13-5 after one quarter when Ironwood shot 2 of 20 from the field.
"First half, we couldn't buy a bucket," Mackey said. "Everything went in and out. We couldn't make layups. We just struggled to begin with, but it has to do with their defense also. They're a scrappy team. They hustle, they fly around and make plays. We weren't able to make enough plays in the first half, but second half we started to play a little better."
It took three minutes, 45 seconds before Ironwood took the lead in the second quarter on a Mackey 3, 17-16. Bessemer took it back once, 23-21, as Lance Berwald and Ben Zielinski hit back-to-back layups. But Jared Sobolewski tied it at 23-23 and Mackey put back his own miss for a lead Ironwood never lost, 25-23.
"I thought Sobolewski played well off the bench, tremendous job off the bench," Lewinski said.
Not that it was easy for Ironwood after that.
Bessemer's Jess Mazzon hit consecutive 3s and the Speedboys were within 56-53 with 4:07 left in the game. Rowe answered 20 seconds later with a triple on the wing to right the ship for the Devils and make it 59-53. It was Rowe's only long ball of the game.
"Huge shot, huge shot," Mackey said. "They have the whole crowd with them. That's a hell of a shot. I drove the lane and passed to Bryant. That's a hell of a shot with all that pressure on him. It was a big momentum shift."
After Ironwood missed a 3 and Bessemer missed two, Ironwood called timeout with 2:03 left. Ironwood killed 49 seconds off the clock and Mackey got to the free throw line where he made both.
Zielinski hit another Bessemer 3 with 1:04 to go, but Mackey sank two free throws on the other end, then stole the ball and hit a fast break layup to finally bury the Speedboys, 65-56.
Ironwood led 47-39 at the end of the third quarter and led by nine points three times in the fourth quarter. Bessemer recovered from all but the last one.
Ironwood shot 23 of 43 (53.5 percent) after the first quarter.
"We slowed down a little bit," Mackey said of the second half. "Bessemer wants to make us run. That's what they want to do, get up and down the floor. So we tried to slow it down a little bit. Take it to the rack a little more, draw some fouls and get to the line."
Jacob DiGiorgio had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Denver Sharrow nine points for Ironwood.
Ironwood outrebounded Bessemer 40-27, including 18-6 on the offensive glass.
Partanen said the Devils' size hurt Bessemer.
"I thought DiGiorgio and Sobolewski when he came in hurt us down low," Partanen said. "Sobolewski with his length. We don't have anybody who can match that. We tried a couple different people on him. Ironwood matched our intensity for a lot of the game, which other teams haven't done yet."
Zielinski paced Bessemer with 15 points. Berwald and Mazurek both had 12 and Mazzon had 10. Bessemer made 11 3s, including four from Mazurek and three from Mazzon.
"We anticipated playing well physically, running the floor," Partanen said. "We shot from the outside probably better than I thought we would. This usually isn't a good shooting gym for us."
Bessemer (3-1, 3-1) heads to Ewen-Trout Creek for an important Porcupine Mountain Conference game tonight.
Ironwood (4-0, 4-0) goes on the road to face a tough Ashland team tonight at 7:15 p.m.
Bessemer - Drew Bennetts 3, Trent Quade 2, Max France 2, Jess Mazzon 10, Ben Zielinski 15, Lance Berwald 12, Zack Mazurek 12. FTs: 7-9. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Mazurek 4, Mazzon 3, Zielinski 2, Berwald 1, Bennetts 1.
Ironwood - Denver Sharrow 10, Adam Mackey 25, Jon Erickson 2, Bryant Rowe 9, Jacob DiGiorgio 12, Jared Sobolewski 9. FTs: 14-24. Fouls: 13. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Mackey 2, Rowe 1.
Bessemer 13 26 40 56
Ironwood 5 2