As if winning the team’s first-ever state championship was not sweet enough, the Ironwood boys’ basketball team were served a title with a side of sweet revenge Monday night, as the No. 2 Eagles defeated No. 1 Millennium 78-70 in the 2020 AIA Boys Basketball 5A State Championship final.
The win comes just a season after the Eagles fell to these same Tigers, 60-59, in the 2018-19 quarterfinals after junior guard Dominic Gonzalez was called for a controversial lane violation on a game-tying free throw in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
“This started last year, and we felt like we left something on the table with them,” the now-senior captain said.
The game was a back-and-forth battle, with the teams trading big buckets and the lead for the first half of play. The Eagles went on a scoring run late in the first half, though, willing themselves to a 42-33 lead at the break.
Where other teams have avoided dribbling into the paint, where star junior forward DaRon Holmes roamed near the basket looking to block or alter every shot, the Eagles still penetrated the defense and took shots in close or kicked out to shooters for open perimeter jumpers.
“You can’t shy away from length, you’ve got to attack it,” Gonzalez said.
The Tigers did enough to keep themselves in the game and crept close several times in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles continued to score at the important moments. It seemed every time Millennium started to gain a little bit of momentum, the Eagles would snatch it right back.
“They feel like if we could build the lead, we’d be really hard to chase,” Ironwood coach Jordan Augustine said of his players.
“They did a good job of getting good stops and hitting big shots when they needed to,” added Millennium coach Ty Amundsen.
Even still the Tigers had their chances to pull off a comeback. With about 40 seconds left, Millennium junior Justus Jackson snuck up on Gonzalez to make a steal, passed it off to a teammate for an easy layup and the lead was trimmed to just two points. However, the Eagles made an inbounds pass and calmly hit free throws the Tigers gave them to stop the clock. They would continue to make stops, hit the free throws and the lead just kept growing.
The Tigers, in the dying seconds, threw up a meaningless three-pointer at the buzzer. As it sounded, the Eagles rushed the court in celebration of their upset victory.
“It’s crazy. A lot of people were doubting us, saying we were going to lose, and we proved them wrong. I’m just really happy,” said senior Trent Hudgens.
The moment is bittersweet, albeit mostly sweet, for Augustine and the coaching staff, as the victory signals the end of the season and high school basketball careers for several of the players that created the character of the squad and got them to this point.
At least for a night, though, the Eagles were all smiles cutting down the net and lifting the gold ball.
“There’s five seniors out there that have meant so much to this team, and I don’t know what we’re going to do without them,” Augustine said. “But for now, we’re just going to enjoy this.”