Just 2 baskets short: Late surge by Lake City spoils Westwood girls basketball’s final-four bid in 50-46 decision

Westwood's Tessa Leece, second from right, goes for a steal from a Lake City player during their MHSAA Division 3 state quarterfinal game played in Gaylord on Tuesday. (Ben Murphy photo)

“We’ll have everyone back and they will be hungry for another run.” — Kurt Corcoran, Westwood head coach, on trying to replicate this year’s success next season

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GAYLORD — A nine-point lead in the second half. A heavy dose of momentum.

The Westwood girls basketball team seemingly had Lake City right where it wanted it in their MHSAA Division 3 quarterfinal game in Gaylord on Tuesday night.

But the Lady Trojans closed the third quarter on a 13-4 run and had just enough extra in the fourth quarter to hand the Patriots a heartbreaking 50-46 season-ending setback.

Westwood's Madelyn Koski gets to the basket for a layup with Lake City defenders raising their hands early in their MHSAA Division 3 state quarterfinal game played in Gaylord on Tuesday. (Ben Murphy photo)

“We have a special group here, which makes this tough,” Westwood head coach Kurt Corcoran said. “There are really no words to say to make this sound good, there is really no sugar to put on top right now.

“I thought we outplayed them the majority of the game, but we had about a four- minute stretch there that we had some uncharacteristic turnovers, and just had a lid on our basket for awhile that allowed them back into the game. It’s just unfortunate.”

A frantic tip-in at the halftime buzzer by Ellie Miller lifted Westwood to a 26-22 lead at the break and the Patriots got five quick points by Madi Koski to start the third. Koski was able to get a 3-pointer from the right corner to fall and followed with a slice through the middle of the Trojan defense for a flip-in to make it 31-22.

Facing its biggest deficit, Lake City called timeout shortly after the run. The Trojans came out of the stoppage switching from a man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone, with 6-foot-2 center Rylie Bisballe using her length on top. Corcoran believed this change in tactics was a game-changer for Lake City.

“We went up by nine there in the third and I thought we’d be able to put them away,” he said. “They switched to that zone and even though it wasn’t an aggressive trap, Bisballe is big and she made it tough for us on top of that zone and took away some passing lanes.”

The Trojans pulled within 31-26, and though a steal and fast-break hoop by Tessa Leece stopped the bleeding momentarily at 33-26, the Patriots could only add a pair of free throws by Jillian Koski over the rest of the quarter. That allowed the Trojans to work the score back to a 35-35 deadlock entering the fourth.

“They do play good defense and their zone really slowed us down,” Corcoran said. “We went four or five possessions without even a shot on the bucket. We were passing to nobody and had a couple of travel calls.”

Lake City took a 37-35 lead early in the fourth for its first lead since late in the first quarter, and while a Karlie Patron 16-footer quickly retied it, the Trojans swung back with its only triple of the night to surge ahead 40-37.

Leece knocked down a pair of free throws to tie it again at 40-40 with 4:12 to play, though the Trojans went on a quick 6-0 burst that was capped by a putback basket by Bisballe to make it 46-40 with three minutes to go.

Natalie Prophet and Leece hit late 3s that trimmed the Trojan lead, first to 46-43 and then to 48-46, but Lake City answered each trey with a pair of free throws, including two in the final seven seconds that iced the result.

“Our game plan coming in was to take Bisballe out of the game and I thought we did a good job on her,” Corcoran said. “I really have to credit (Makayla) Ardis and (Olivia) Bellows for stepping up for them and they also hit their free throws down the stretch when they needed to.”

The Patriots had a solid start, opening on a 9-2 run that was sparked by a pair of buckets by Madi Koski and capped with a short lay-in by Patron, who hauled in an entry pass near the rim from Prophet.

Lake City responded with a 10-2 run to pull ahead 12-11 late in the period, but Madi Koski sank a 3 from the top of the key to put the Patriots ahead 14-12 after one.

Another shot from behind the long line by Madi Koski lifted the Patriots to an 18-15 lead and a drive and flip-in by Patron kept them ahead 20-17.

The Trojans answered to knot things up at 22-22 late in the half, but Emily Nelson dropped one in from just inside the 3-point line to give the Patriots a 24-22 advantage with about 15 seconds left before the break.

Moments after the ensuing inbounds play, Leece deflected a pass from its target. Leece chased down the loose ball into the corner of the court and somehow managed to get a pass away to a teammate. While Westwood missed a 3 and a pair of close-range buckets as time slipped off the clock, Miller’s tip-in just before the buzzer sounded made it a 26-22 at halftime.

Leading the way for the Patriots was Madi Koski with 15 points as Leece netted 10.

“Tessa and Madi have been doing this for years, those two run the show,” Corcoran said. “I am kind of spoiled because I have come to just expect it from those two. We had really good production from everyone, though, having seven girls score. We just needed one more of those shots to fall in, but it just didn’t fall our way tonight.”

Prophet finished with nine points, Patron added six as Jillian Koski, Miller and Nelson finished with two apiece.

Westwood finishes the season at 24-2 and since it is without a senior on its roster, hopes to take another step towards its quest for the Division 3 final four next winter.

“Just getting out of the (Upper Peninsula) is no easy task,” Corcoran said. “We don’t really get a lot of recognition down here, but there is some great competition up there.

“This was a great year and a lot of people might say that we overachieved a little, but I think we were right where we wanted to be. I think we even saw ourselves in the final four.

“We’ll have everyone back and they will be hungry for another run. We have been telling the girls during this tournament run that next year is never guaranteed so we were trying to enjoy this ride as much as we possibly could.

“We did, and we learned from it and hopefully we will be down again here next year.”