ISHPEMING - The letdowns only last a few minutes, but that's all it's taken for the Westwood boys basketball team to get into a bad spot on the scoreboard this season.
That's according to Patriots head coach Ryan Reichel, who saw his team go down for a ninth straight time, 49-44, to Iron Mountain at home on Thursday night.
"At the start of the fourth quarter, we had a letdown, but that's been the story of our season," Reichel said. "Play well for 3 1/2 quarters, but it's that other four minutes that gets us into trouble."
Iron Mountain’s Jake Thomann tries to keep the ball away from Westwood defender Travis Swanson during a Mid-Peninsula boys basketball game played at the Patriots gym on Thursday night. The Mountaineers won 49-44. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
Westwood (0-9 overall, 0-4 Mid-Peninsula Conference) just doesn't have the offensive firepower to score points in bunches, necessitating a full 32 minutes of solid play.
"I'm really stressing to our guys to grind it out on every play," the coach said.
Trailing 25-18 at halftime, Westwood slowed IM (8-3, 6-1) down in the third, allowing the Mountaineers just five points and pulling within 30-28 entering the final eight minutes.
"I told my guys before the game that if they think they can just walk in here and get a win, they're going to be in trouble," IM coach Harvey "Bucky" Johnson said. "This wasn't a pretty game. It was slower paced than I like.
"Westwood played hard the whole game. They were physical and didn't back down."
Which is what pleases Reichel.
"We've had a few moral victories, but what I really want for these guys is a W," Reichel said. "They deserve a win. They've been playing so hard. I really just want to get that win for our guys.
"But they haven't given up. They played just as hard tonight as they have all year."
The Mountaineers didn't exactly run away in the fourth quarter, but instead turned to a pair of seniors, Taylor Huotari and Luke Zambon, to push them over the top.
Not coincidentally, they were the game's top two scorers. Huotari had 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, while Zambon scored eight of 15 then.
IM's five points in the third came on a 3-pointer and a long 2 by Huotari. Other than that, IM couldn't get much in the way of good looks at the basket.
But the Mountaineers caught fire as soon as the fourth quarter began. Zambon made a triple 30 seconds in and a free throw following his offensive rebound a minute after that.
Within another 3 1/2 minutes, Huotari, a 5-foot-9 guard, made four running lay-ins, including three on drives right down the middle of the lane.
The score was still a manageable 42-36 only because the Patriots answered with three baskets and a free throw of their own.
In fact, after freshman point guard Luke Gray hit a pair of free throws with 1:23 left, Westwood only trailed 42-40.
"He's a great ball handler and defensively he's strong," Reichel said about Gray. "He's does a great job as a 14-year-old directing a bunch of 18-year-olds with our offense, and in our league, we've got a lot of tough point guards to defend."
Gray shared team scoring honors with junior Luke Woods as each finished with 11 points.
Zambon made another bucket with a minute left, forcing a fouling situation. By making 5 of 7 free throws in the final 46 seconds, IM held off any Westwood comeback.
Zambon and Patriots senior Travis Swanson led rebounders with eight apiece, while IM senior Gerry Pirkola dished out seven assists and Westwood junior Justin Luke made three steals.
The Pats won the JV game, 43-40, coming back from a large third-quarter deficit.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.