NIT’s young guns sting ‘B’

NEGAUNEE After being defeated by Stonehouse Window and Door of Ishpeming last year, U.P. Insurance Agency of Negaunee took the Class B championship title in the Negaunee Invitational Tournament’s 50th year with an 86-65 win over the 2013 victor on Sunday in Negaunee.

“Especially after last year, we had this day marked on our calendars,” MVP Mike Hojnacki said. “We were ready to come out.”

U.P. Insurance, whose core was made up of former Michigan Tech basketball players, broke away from Stonehouse early in the contest. U.P Insurance was up 24-12 less than 10 minutes in and entered halftime up 47-35.

In the second half, U.P. Insurance didn’t let its lead drop below nine and had extended it to over 20 points by the final buzzer.

“It was great to get back with those guys and get the ball moving,” Hojnacki said. “We’re still a little bit younger, and especially those guys coming off of season, they were ready to go.”

Billy Hill of Stonehouse said, despite his team’s hard effort, it struggled to keep up with U.P. Insurance’s players who finished their college basketball careers just weeks ago.

“We’re in that period of time now where we’re all getting a little bit older and we’re used to playing fast, but we had to try to slow it down,” Hill said.

Alex Culy said U.P. Insurance knew they were fresher coming into the tournament and used that to their advantage by running and moving the ball as much as they could.

“They’re good players,” Culy said. “They’ve won this a lot of times and had great college careers, so we knew they were going to make their runs and hit their shots, but we just weathered the storm.”

Austin Armga led U.P. Insurance with 34 points. Ryan Rafield scored 21 points and Culy scored 10. Armga and Culy just finished their senior runs with the Huskies, who made it to the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship this year.

“This tournament is so much fun and we were playing against Josh Buettner, our assistant coach,” Armga said. “The key for us was both energy and on the defensive end, because we know Stonehouse can hit 20 3s in a row.”

Hojnacki, who was named MVP, had 15 points for U.P. Insurance. He said he was honored by the title, but owes it to his teammates.

“It’s really fun playing with them because they can move the ball so fast,” Hojnacki said. “I just had to hit some shots.”

For Stonehouse, Tyler Kazmierkoski and Josh Buettner had 14 points each, and Tim Strom scored 11.

“They deserved it,” Hill said. “It’s a good team and they played their butts off.”