Not a delicate balance: Westwood Patriots use seemingly opposite ideas of structure, freedom to stifle Charlevoix for regional title

Westwood freshman Natalie Prophet, left, sets to take a shot against Charlevoix with Patriots’ head coach Kurt Corcoran, center back, watching the play in their MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament championship game held in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday. (Scott Church photo)

“There are a lot of teams that have poor shooting nights against us.” — Kurt Corcoran, Westwood head coach, on Charlevoix scoring just 29 points on Wednesday

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SAULT STE. MARIE — Structure and freedom.

They are two words that would seem to work against each other, especially on the basketball court, but coach Kurt Corcoran and his Westwood girls team found a way to combine the two this season.

It paid off big time Tuesday night as the Patriots knocked off Charlevoix 47-29 to capture the MHSAA Division 3 regional championship.

The Patriots improved to 24-1 and advance to the Division 3 quarterfinals in Gaylord on Tuesday night to face Lake City.

“That’s just who we are,” Corcoran said. “That’s who we have been all year. We want to have structure, but we want to allow the players to play with freedom because we have some really good athletes.

“We don’t want them so structured that they become robotic.”

Being robotic was not something that Corcoran needed to worry about as his team played fearlessly on the offensive end.

Every Patriots player on the floor took the ball to the basket, even if that meant running straight into Charlevoix ace Elise Stuck.

Karlie Patron started the trend with a move to the basket that netted her two free throws and a 12-6 lead for the Patriots in the first quarter.

With 1:15 left in the period, Madelyn Koski knocked down her second 3-pointer that put Westwood up nine points, 15-6.

The Rayders (19-3) seemed to be a little nervous early on as they had multiple looks at the basket, but couldn’t get anything to fall.

“I’d like to give our defense a lot of credit for that,” Corcoran said with a wry smile. “There are a lot of teams that have poor shooting nights against us.”

Koski picked up where Patron left off midway through the second quarter as she drove the lane and expanded the Patriot lead to a baker’s dozen, 21-8, with two free throws.

Twice more in the quarter, Koski turned drives into free throws and forced Stuck into her second foul with 3:46 left in the first half. Koski’s trips to the line put the Pats up 25-11.

“We did talk about what we were going to do against Stuck,” Koski said. “We knew that if we got her into foul trouble, she’d have to sit a little bit. Whenever I had her on me, I tried to take it right at her.”

Things got a little nerve-wracking for Patriots fans in the third quarter. After scoring on their opening possession with a backdoor lob for a layup, Westwood went nearly four minutes without scoring.

During this time, Addie Nagel and Stuck both knocked down triples to pull the Rayders back within five, 29-24.

“I wasn’t nervous at that point,” Corcoran said. “I was more angry than anything. We stopped defending the way we had been and they knocked down a couple of shots.

“We have faced adversity all year. We have played in close games all year and the two conferences we play in have made us battle-ready.

“Just to get to this point, we had to beat a really tough Negaunee team in our first district game, so we weren’t nervous.”

The Patriots’ play over the next two minutes proved Corcoran right. First, Mallory Leece knocked down a 3 from the left wing to bump the lead back to 12, then Patron went to work again, converting on another and-1 opportunity to give the Pats their biggest lead at 39-24 with 22.8 seconds left to go in the third.

The actual dagger, though, may have come as Koski single-handedly beat the press that the Rayders had just put on and knocked down a short jumper with 3 seconds left on the clock to make it 41-24 at the end of the third.

“Forty-eight hours ago, I didn’t know a single thing about Charlevoix,” Corcoran said of game planning for the Rayders. “But it only takes about two minutes of watching film to realize that in order to beat them, you have to find a way to defend Elise Stuck.”

Freshman Natalie Prophet, a late-season call-up from the JV, drew that assignment. Although the Patriots gave up a lot in the height department, there were not many instances where the Rayders were allowed more than one shot.

“We wanted to front her and make sure we had help on the back side,” Corcoran said about defending Stuck. “We knew were going be smaller than them, but we just beat West Iron County and they were bigger than Charlevoix. So we knew we could compete.”

The defensive game plan was a success as Stuck was held to a relatively quiet 23 points. Only three other players scored for the Rayders, none with more than three points.

For Westwood, Koski led the way with 14 points, while Patron posted a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Prophet had 11 rebounds and three steals, while Tessa Leece scored eight points and dished out six assists.