A year’s wait pays off for Patriots with district title

By RYAN SPITZA

Journal Sports Writer

GWINN — The Westwood High School girls basketball team had to wait one long year to have another chance at a district title.

They got that chance on Friday night, and after fending off a late Gwinn rally, the Patriots hung on to top the Modeltowners 58-51 at Gwinn High School, claiming the Division 3 district championship and advancing to their first regional in the MHSAA tournament in 11 seasons.

Westwood head coach Kurt Corcoran was delighted to win a challenging district that featured the likes of Negaunee, Gwinn and Bark River-Harris, among others.

“There’s a lot of emotions right now,” he said. “I’m still shaken from that (Gwinn) fourth-quarter comeback.

“I’m super excited for these girls. To win districts in our district is probably one of the toughest things to do. Most of the time, we’re still competitive here in Marquette County. Usually the conference champion doesn’t even come out as the district champion.

“A lot of schools around the (Upper Peninsula) you see racking up all these district championships, it’s easier because they’re in a noncompetitive district.

“To win a district in this area is just super impressive. I’m really excited for these girls and I’m really excited for the community.

“The pressure was on us in this game. We were the favorites and Gwinn was the underdog, and there they were in the fourth quarter on their own floor shooting the length out of the ball.

“We persevered, faced adversity and made big shots when we needed. It’s just incredible.”

Westwood junior guard Madi Koski, who finished with nine points, said the win is even sweeter after last season’s heartbreaking 59-52 district title game loss to Ishpeming.

“I don’t know how to explain it, it feels incredible,” she said. “From going to sitting on the bench in Ishpeming and knowing that our season is over, to (tonight) where I knew we won.

“I was very happy with my team. It was a complete ‘180’ from last year.”

Asked how far her team can go, Koski simply stated that hard work can pay off.

“If we keep playing hard, we’ll keep winning,” she said. “But we have to keep playing hard.”

The Patriots are now 22-1 as they head to Escanaba at 7 p.m. Monday, facing West Iron County (19-2) in a regional semifinal.

As for the Modeltowners, their season came to an end at 12-10. After cutting the Patriots’ lead to one point after three quarters and staying within a bucket in the fourth, Gwinn was unable to find that one big shot needed to tie or go ahead.

“That’s a really good basketball team and we played them toe to toe,” Gwinn head coach Ben Olsen said. “I think the changing point was late first-early second quarter when Westwood went on a little run there to make it 21-13 and we were in catchup mode from that moment on.

“It was similar to the Ishpeming game on Tuesday, where we maybe got a shot to tie it or take the lead and maybe snowball that momentum for us, but we just couldn’t get a stop at the right time and we couldn’t get a basket at the right time.”

Olsen is still satisfied fighting hard against the top-ranked girls team in the U.P.

“I’ve been telling people that this is one of the best, if not the best Westwood team and possibly the best high school girls team I’ve seen in the last seven or eight years. We got beat by a really good team and I think we played toe to toe with them for 32 minutes.”

The score was 11-10 Westwood after one quarter as the Patriots took a 30-23 lead at halftime.

Down by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter, the Modeltowners started their comeback down 39-31. After a triple from junior guard Emily Curtice and a layup from sophomore guard Tianna Taylor made the game 39-36, Gwinn eventually climbed to within one point on a layup-and-one play from senior guard Trisha McGuire with 17 seconds left in the frame, making it a 45-44 lead after three.

Westwood opened the fourth with a layup from junior forward Karlie Patron to increase the lead to three, before another layup from McGuire made the deficit one again.

The Modeltowners stayed within striking distance for much of the fourth quarter, but were unable to find one big shot to tie the game or take the lead.

Westwood shot 18 of 34 from the field for 52.9 percent and 17 of 20 at the free throw line, collecting 19 rebounds with junior guard Tessa Leece getting nine of them.

Gwinn shot 17 field goals and was 9 of 12 from the line, led in points by McGuire with 17 and Curtice with 11. Senior guard Brooke Mannor added nine points while senior guard Mallory Delmont had seven.

Leece led Westwood with 21 points while Patron had 15. Freshman forward Natalie Prophet had 11 with Koski getting nine.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.