Pats rally past Wykons

Adam Niemi | Iron Mountain Daily News Westwood’s Tessa Leece, left, puts up a shot over West Iron County’s Anna Malmquist during a Division 3 regional semifinal Monday in Escanaba.

ESCANABA — A bold coaching decision during the middle of the third quarter might just have saved the Westwood’s girls basketball team here Monday night.

Trailing 35-30 with just over two minutes left in the third period of a Division 3 regional semifinal, Patriots’ coach Kurt Corcoran decided to put on a full-court press they hadn’t ran all year. It worked, and the Patriots rallied past West Iron County for a 50-46 win.

The win sends Westwood to the regional final against Charlevoix in Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

The second-ranked Wykons led 35-28 with 2:38 left in the third quarter after a lay-up by junior center Emily Nelson. After the Patriots answered on the other end, Corcoran called timeout to set up a run-and-jump press.

The press didn’t appear to phase the Wykons (19-3) at first, as they broke it and got clean looks at the basket on the other end. However, they missed those clean looks and the momentum started to swing back in Westwood’s direction.

The top-ranked Patriots (23-1) went on an 8-3 run to tie the game at 38 on a lay-in by freshman forward Natalie Prophet with 5:43 left in the game.

“We’ve been working on our run-and-jump press,” Corcoran said. “We’ve been working on it and saving it for the right moment. It’s kind of a scary decision when you’re down seven in the middle of the third quarter. You don’t want to give the girls the impression you’re panicking, but we figured they (Wykons) probably weren’t prepared for it because we haven’t run it all year.

“They ended up missing two lay-ups off of it so it looks like I made the right call. If they hadn’t, I would have looked like an imbecile.”

Mid-Peninsula Conference Player of the Year Tessa Leece gave the Patriots a little bit of separation on a jumper from the right wing to increase their lead to 43-40 with 2:03 remaining. After free throws by junior guard Madelyn Koski, they held a 48-43 lead with 38 ticks to play.

The Wykons responded with a triple by senior guard Katarina Serbentas to make it 48-46 on the next possession, and then were forced to foul with 17.9 seconds left.

Junior forward Karlie Patron stepped to the charity stripe and drained a pair of gifters to push Westwood’s lead to 50-46, and the Wykons missed two looks at triple attempts on the other end as time ran out.

“We weren’t shocked we came back,” Koski said. “We knew were going to win this game. We had a little extra motivation because we weren’t picked to win and we wanted to prove that we’re the best team in the U.P.”

Patron, who shot 5-of-6 from the charity stripe and made numerous big free throws in the fourth quarter, echoed those comments.

“We just knew we weren’t going to lose the whole game,” she said. “There was no panic. I would describe us a stone cold team. We have ice in our veins.”

She also joked about how she calmed herself down at the free throw line.

“Coach Corcoran is always in my ear telling me to follow through,” she said. “When he says that it makes me calm down because I miss when I don’t do that.”

It was a tough way to end the year for the Wykons, who led 24-23 at the half after rallying from an early 7-0 hole. Coach Eric Shamion thought the game changed when the Patriots applied their press.

“That’s where the game changed. We had a five or seven-point lead and then they put their press on, which led to easy baskets for them and eventually gave them the lead,” he said. “We were unable to recover.

“Because of their pressure and deflections, we were unable to get the ball in the post. I like our game plan. I think if we handled the pressure from their press differently it could have been a different result.”

Smith and Patron said they sensed the pressure got to the Wykons.

“We could sense they panicked a little bit,” Smith said. “The point of the press was to swing the momentum and take them out of their offense.”

The Wykons had great success going inside to Nelson in the first half. Corcoran knew they had to find a way to take her out of the game.

“Emily Nelson dominated in the first half,” he said. “We knew coming in we had to keep the ball out of her hands. We wanted to front her when we needed to and muscle her to keep her out of the lane. In the second half we ran a zone and sandwiched her. We came out and tried to utilize that and the girls executed it well.”

Smith led the Patriots with a game-high 24 points. Leece added 13 points.

Nelson led the Wykons with 13 points and junior forward Eden Golliher chipped in with 11.

The Wykons lose six seniors, and Shamion had nothing but positive things to say about them.

“I’ve been able to coach all these seniors for two years,” he said. “They’re hard-working, easy-going kids and they’ve been a joy to coach.”

Westwood 10 13 9 18 — 50

West Iron 8 16 11 11 — 46

Westwood — Koski 24, Leece 13, Patron 9, Prophet 4. F: 14; FT: 16-24; Fouled out: None. 3-point field goals: Koski 4.

West Iron — Nelson 13, Golliher 11, Serbentas 9, Laturi 8, Stine 3, Malmquist 2. F: 15; FT: 8-13; Fouled out: None. 3-point field goals: Serbentas 3, Laturi 2, Stine.

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