Not pretty but pretty effective: Westwood Patriots boys basketball team bounces back from lone loss to win in Gwinn
“The kids are giving the effort. Now we’ve got to try and fine tune that effort into what they’re doing.” — Scott Syrjala, head coach, Westwood boys basketball
GWINN — Head coach Scott Syrjala said it wasn’t the prettiest performance, but his Westwood boys basketball team was able to find a way after a slow start against Gwinn on Wednesday night.
This week’s Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association No. 5-ranked team found itself down 9-2 in the early stages, but gradually improved as the night went on to pick up a 46-37 win over the Modeltowners.
The Patriots improved to 4-1 after a tough road loss to West Iron County on Monday, which prompted Syrjala to present his kids with a challenge about their effort.
“I thought in West Iron County our effort was anything but good,” he said. “It showed and I challenged the kids (on Tuesday). We had a hard practice and we were talking about effort.
“Our effort was there (tonight). We challenged them again at halftime because I thought our effort was only at about 90 percent. In the second half, our effort started getting better.
“The problem is, the kids are giving the effort. Now we’ve got to try and fine tune that effort into what they’re doing. They’re trying to please the coaches, they’re trying to please the parents and fans, they’re trying to do things right.”
Syrjala added that his players are still learning the ropes early in the season, and sometimes an “ugly” win can be a good thing moving forward.
“We’re learning. We’re kind of a ‘green’ team, to be honest with you. At one time (tonight), we had three sophomores on the floor. Another was a junior.
“We’re a little bit green, but we’re getting there. We’re getting better. It wasn’t a pretty win, but sometimes you’ve got to do that just to get a little bit of confidence and say ‘You know what? We can do this.'”
The Modeltowners dropped to 1-4 as missed opportunities were the culprit in the defeat, according to Gwinn head coach Jim Finkbeiner.
“We had some tremendous opportunities in the meat of the game when we had the lead and when (Westwood) made a little push, and that ball would just not go in the basket,” he said. “I could count four moments off the top of my head where we missed an opportunity. That’s eight points, and I know we lost by eight or 10, but maybe you don’t even get to that point.
“Those possessions in a game like this makes it pretty tough. Every possession means something.
“It was a really physical game, too. Free throws were a big point, give (Westwood) credit, they made their free throws when they needed to and we really didn’t hit our free throws. Turnovers, free throws, the basics of the game.”
Throughout the night, Gwinn threw the ball away, which turned into points at the other end of the floor. That was especially true in the first half.
“It really looked like we were trying to make that perfect pass, that spectacular pass too many times, rather than just making the solid effort pass,” Finkbeiner said. “The one out of 10 times that goes through is great, but when you do it time and time again, you end up with 14 turnovers in the first half.
“The first half is where the game was kind of decided. We had a lead, and we ended up losing that lead because of turnovers.”
Three triples, two from junior James Harnick and another from senior Nick Lightford, gave the Modeltowners their early 9-2 lead. It was a free throw from Westwood’s Zachary Carlson and a layup from Taylor Dellangelo that cut the Patriots’ deficit to 9-5 after one quarter.
Westwood took its first lead on a pair of charity buckets from Carlson in the second quarter, making it a 15-13 Patriots before a top-of-the-arc 3 from Gwinn junior Toquan Starnes quickly negated that.
Two more free throws, one from Carlson and the other from senior Ty Alderton, and a late 2-pointer from Carlson gave the Patriots a 20-16 lead at halftime, a lead they would hold for good.
A triple by sophomore Zach Beckman with under a minute to play in the third quarter put Westwood up 30-22, its largest lead to that point, and the Patriots took a 32-24 advantage into the final eight minutes.
Gwinn was able to cut its deficit to five points with 1:28 remaining, but it was a free throw battle for those final seconds, and the Patriots notched 6 of 10 down the stretch to secure the victory.
Carlson led the Patriots with 17 points, while Beckman finished with nine. Alderton added seven and Dellangelo five.
The Modeltowners were led by Harnick with a 10-point night as senior Caleb Anderson had eight and Lightford six.
Westwood was 14 of 24 at the free throw line with Gwinn going 9 of 16. From the field, Westwood shot 16 of 36, all in 2-point range, for 44 percent. The Patriots also collected 17 rebounds with Alderton grabbing seven. Shooting and rebounding statistics for Gwinn weren’t available.
On Friday, Gwinn visits Gladstone (2-3) while Westwood hosts UPSSA Division 1-3 No. 1 Iron Mountain (5-0).
Email Ryan Spitza at email@example.com.