BESSEMER — Everything — everything — was stacked against Bessemer Tuesday.
The fourth-ranked Class ABC team in the U.P ., Ironwood, opened up a 17-4 lead on the Speedboys, which had lost three of their last four, and now were dealing with an ankle injury to leading scorer Ben Zielinski.
The Speedboys, though, came back and pulled the surprising upset, 46-45 over their archrivals, on a buzzer beater by Lance Berwald, his only points of the entire game.
“They were huge,” Bessemer coach Jim Partanen said. “It's a nice win. I hope the monkey's off our backs now.”
The crowd really got into it in an exciting fourth quarter where Bessemer took the lead, Ironwood got it back and then the Speedboys won in dramatic fashion and the Bessemer students rushed the court.
“We've been on a losing streak. We've been losing games, so this is a big game for us,” Berwald said. “We've been shooting 3-pointers a lot. We started playing our game — passing the ball, looking for the open man.”
Ironwood missed an opportunity to wrap up the Indianhead Conference East Division title outright.
“It feels good to beat a better team,” Zielinski said.
The Devils host rival Hurley Friday and will win the title outright with a victory. If Hurley wins, the Midgets and Devils will share the title.
“Records don't count in the rivalry games, especially here,” Ironwood coach Pete Lewinski said of the House of Noise. “They play well here. We struggled here last year. We struggled here this year. Tough place to play. They had no pressure on them because they were out of the conference race. They played loose. I don't know if we were uptight, conference race on the line. We struggled tonight.”
Ironwood's Denver Sharrow missed the front end of a one-and-one with just under a minute left in the contest and the Red Devils maintained a slim 45-44 lead.
Bessemer called timeout with 50.8 seconds left, and in a gutsy call, went for the last shot.
“We said we were either going to win it or lose it at the end,” Partanen said.
Bessemer planned on isolating Zielinski then, but Ironwood's zone prevented that and the Devils knocked the ball away. A near-turnover was negated when Sharrow tried to stay in bounds but couldn't. Bessemer called timeout with 6.1 seconds left.
The play was again to Zielinski, who was supposed to drive to the basket. But Ironwood quickly was able to double him. He passed over them to Jess Mazzon, who drove the lane and found Lance Berwald wide open under the basket. Berwald calmly hit the buzzer beater.
Berwald also hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat Ewen-Trout Creek in December.
“He's got ice-water running through his veins,” Partanen said. “That was on the same thing: Ben penetrating. They came to help and he kicked it out.”
Mazzon, who scored 10 points, was able to make the broken play work.
“He has great court vision, he really does,” Partanen said. “He's a pass-first kind of guy.”
Lewinski said, “We had to pick him up on the drive because he's a good penetrator and Berwald was open for the J.”
Down nine points late in the third quarter, Zielinski reached for the rebound and put it in while being fouled. He was fired up, he hit the free throw and Bessemer was within 34-28.
Maybe Bessemer could come back.
The Speedboys took their first lead of the game with 6:21 remaining when Andrew Peterson hit a 3-pointer for a 38-36 Speedboy advantage.
Zielinski blocked a shot and Bessemer got a putback to go on the other end and Bessemer was up 40-36.
The Speedboys kept that lead until Ironwood went up 43-42 with 1:57 left. The Devils took a three-point lead on a strange play. Ironwood passed into Jacob DiGiorgio. Bessemer challenged the pass and in the midst of that, the ball was deflected into the net.
Zielinski hit a putback to put Bessemer back within 45-44, setting up an exciting final minute where Bessemer came out on top.
Zielinski started out slowly, limping even at times, with his ankle bothering him. He then switched from tape to a bandage to keep the swelling down with a brace, which was more comfortable. He had a team-high 11 points, including nine in the second half.
“I didn't know what to think in the second half,” he said. “It started feeling better and better. We started getting momentum. Then I just forgot about it.”
Partanen said, “That might have been the adrenaline … and the Ibuprofen.”
“We've got to have Ben on the floor,” he said. “He's our leader. He can score. He can rebound.”
Lewinski said, “Ben Zielinski playing with an ankle injury, gutty performance, like all of the Speedboys had.”
Bessemer expected Ironwood to start fast because the Devils were fresher. It was 10-0 Ironwood and then 17-4 at the end of the first quarter.
Many fans probably thought it was going to be a long night for the home team.
“We were thinking we had to play with intensity and we can always come back,” Mazzon said.
And they did.
“I don't know if we felt that we had the game in hand, which we didn't,” Lewinski said. “We just went downhill from there. Give Bessemer all the credit in the world for playing a gutty game. They hustled. They worked hard. They made us work for every shot. They played very good defense.”
Ironwood shot 13 of 43 from the field (30 percent).
“I thought in the first half, we got the ball inside and got them in foul trouble,” Lewinski said. “We struggled offensively and Bessemer had something to do with that by their good defense.”
Partanen said his team just had to stay the course after its bad start, not keep getting into a 3-point shooting battle, which Bessemer was not winning.
“I said we've got to get inside. We've got to score,” he said. “We were more patient on offense, started chipping away. We got some easy ones, worked for some other ones. Defensively is where we made a difference in the second half.”
DiGiorgio scored 16 points for Ironwood. Mackey had 14.
For Bessemer, Andrew Peterson hit a couple of 3s in the fourth quarter and he was one of many to help the Speedboys off the bench.
“The people off the bench won the game,” Partanen said.
Bessemer (13-5, 10-5) goes to Mercer Thursday. Ironwood (16-3, 13-2) hosts Hurley Friday.
Ironwood — Denver Sharrow 5, Adam Mackey 14, Jon Erickson 2, Bryant Rowe 6, Jacob DiGiorgio 16, Jared Sobolewski 2. FTs: 15-22. Fouls: 8. Fouled out: None. 3-pointer: Rowe 2, Mackey 1, Sharrow 1.
Bessemer — Drew Bennetts 2, Nick Cossi 5, Max France 2, Andrew Peterson 6, Jess Mazzon 10, Ben Zielinski 11, Lance Berwald 2, Brad Peterson 2, Zack Mazurek 2. FTs: 7-13. Fouls: 20. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: A. Peterson 2, Mazzon 1.
Ironwood 17 26 34 45
Bessemer 4 18 30 46