Going into the fourth quarter Tuesday night at home, the Westlake boys basketball team needed a spark. After leading nearly all of the first half, the visiting Bay Rockets cut into the Demons’ advantage and led 49-46 after three quarters.
Even with the momentum firmly in the Rockets’ grasp, Westlake caught fire in the final frame, opening the fourth on a 9-2 run and outscoring Bay 19-8 in the quarter. That advantage was enough for the Demons to secure a 65-57 victory on the team’s Senior Night.
The win was the team’s first since losing star forward Justin Garcia on Feb. 7 to a potentially season-ending leg injury. It also snapped a three-game losing streak, in which it dropped games to North Ridgeville, Amherst and Lakewood.
“It was great for all those reasons,” Westlake coach Jeff Huber said. “Certainly for our seniors it was a special night. I think it was important for us mentally. It was great for those guys to get the confidence to come out and beat a solid team without (Garcia) and hopefully that gets us back believing and hitting a little stride as we get into the tournament.”
Leading the Demons (12-9, 9-8 Southwestern Conference) in the fourth quarter were senior Nate Klima with nine points (6-for-6 on free throws) and junior Cal Reghi with eight (two 3-pointers). Both players had quiet games up until that point. Through the first three quarters, Klima had seven points and made just two field goals, and Reghi had three points.
The pair finished with 16 and 11 points, respectively. High-scorers behind them were Will Ostrowski (10 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Tyler Kolocouris (eight points, 11 rebounds).
“It’s a big game, senior night, (but) just like any other game, is how I treat it,” Klima said. “I just wanted to take a deep breath when I’m at the line, just focus on the rim and the ball. (I) just found the bucket.”
Both team’s opened the game with a furious offensive pace and Bay (9-12, 7-8 Great Lakes Conference) took a small early lead. Westlake then opened up a lead of their own after a 15-1 run and the Demons led 22-13 after the first quarter.
Bay’s Jake Martin, one of four seniors in the Rockets’ lineup, led his team’s charge in the first with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. He went quiet the rest of the night, however, making just two of last seven shot attempts, not taking any shots in the fourth quarter and finishing with 12 points and four rebounds.
Michael Stenger (six points), Ostrowski (five points) and Kolocouris and Joe Klessel (four points each) contributed to the Demons’ spread out offense in the quarter.
The second was more of the same for each team but forward Sam Houk and guard Ashton Price (seven points apiece) led the Rockets, cutting Westlake’s lead to 39-34 at halftime. Price and Houk finished in double-figures (13 and 11 points, respectively) alongside Martin’s 12 points and junior Cullen Gergye’s 10 points.
Bay coach Jared Shetzer pointed to his team’s struggles from behind the arc (1-of-22) and sluggish start to the fourth quarter as the reason the Rockets couldn’t come away with the victory. He also said his team had to do better about focusing on the task at hand when controversial calls and no-calls happen in a game.
“Sometimes, what happens is you gain the lead and (then) they hit a shot and all the energy and momentum that you expended to get into that lead can sometimes go away,” Shetzer said. “What happens with a young team like we have is, sometimes, you focus on things you shouldn’t be focused on. Rather than worrying about a call or no-call, you should be spending your energy on the next play. I think sometimes we got caught up in that a little bit tonight. I can’t get caught up in that either.”
Even in the loss, Shetzer knows that when his starting corps can put together outings like it did Tuesday (51 combined points), the Rockets will be hard to beat come playoffs. After wrapping up its season Friday against Fairview, Bay, seeded ninth in the Division II North Ridgeville District, will play No. 8 Lutheran West on Feb. 25.
For Westlake, Huber said his team’s efforts in the fourth quarter are a good sign for a team that has been up and down this season and bodes well heading into the tournament.
“We only had seven points in the third quarter so it was a struggle,” Huber said. “We’ve had a couple instances lately where we’ve hit a lull and heads have hung a little bit. Tonight, we kept with it. Guys on the bench were up and engaged. Stuff like that matters.
“I think the mentality we have to have is a growth mindset,” Huber added. “Continuing to get better. It can be easy to fall into the lull of thinking that we’re in the last week of the regular season so we are what we are. I don’t feel that way and hopefully our guys don’t feel that way either.”
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