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Opportunity taken: Emily Nelson gets long-awaited start, leads Westwood Patriots girls to big regional girls basketball win over Calumet, 51-26

From left, Westwood sophomore Natalie Prophet drives to the basket with Calumet sophomore Marybeth Halonen and junior Elli Djerf in pursuit during their MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament semifinal game played at Marquette Senior High School on Tuesday nigh. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

“We … put Emily in there to guard (Calumet’s) Jana Loukus, and she did an incredible job defensively.” — Kurt Corcoran, Westwood girls basketball dshead coach, on junior Emily Nelson

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MARQUETTE — Emily Nelson had been poised to earn a spot in Westwood’s starting five.

Head coach Kurt Corcoran gave the junior that opportunity on Tuesday night, and she delivered in a big way.

Nelson’s 10 points and her lockdown defense helped propel the Patriots to an MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament semifinal win over Calumet, topping the Copper Kings 51-26 on the neutral floor of Marquette Senior High School.

Westwood (22-2) advances to Thursday’s regional championship game in Sault Ste. Marie, taking on Charlevoix (19-5) in a rematch from last season.

Charlevoix thumped Oscoda 65-29 in the other half of the bracket. Last season, the Patriots prevailed over the Rayders in the regional final, 47-29.

Nelson scored eight of Westwood’s 13 third-quarter points to help her team take a 37-23 lead going into the final frame.

She replaced fellow junior Ellie Miller in the starting five due to Calumet bringing a different look to the table.

“I think that’s probably what makes us so dangerous,” Corcoran said. “I think that’s the sign of a quality team, when you don’t really know who’s going to step up for you.

“Emily Nelson has just been itching for a starting spot for probably a month and a half now. Ellie Miller is our best rebounder and best post defender, but Calumet is really little and scrappy, so we made the switch and put Emily in there to guard (Calumet sophomore) Jana Loukus, and she did an incredible job defensively.

“(Nelson) had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, she rebounded and she played unselfish basketball.”

Corcoran didn’t forget to credit the rest of his team, either. Scoring was distributed around eight of Westwood’s dozen players, led by sophomore Natalie Prophet with 12. The Patriots shot better than 56 percent from the field, sinking 18 of 32 shots.

“Everybody scored and these were all quality buckets, too,” Corcoran said. “I think our girls are really playing the best basketball of the year at this point, which is obviously what you want in the tournament.

“All the girls, everybody, did their role. Calumet likes to dribble drive. They like to penetrate the lane and make plays that way. Often times, they’ll penetrate through three girls, pick up a lot of fouls and shoot a lot of free throws off of that.

“Our girls did an excellent job of closing the doors, taking away the gaps and making them feel really uncomfortable on offense.”

The Copper Kings capped a wildly successful season at 19-4 and lose just one senior to graduation.

“To have the season we had with the core of our team being sophomores and juniors, they did an incredible job this year just having the success they had,” Calumet head coach Matt Laho said. “They’ve got a bright future.”

The one senior is Ellen Sturos, who played a big role in key situations this season after being convinced to join the team.

“She wasn’t even going to play this year,” Laho said. “I convinced her to play and she was a big part of a lot of games for us. (Today) she had some good rebounds, she’s a great 3-point shooter and when she gets a chance to shoot, she usually knocks it down for us. I’m just happy she came out and did as well as she did this year.”

Westwood held a narrow 14-10 lead after one quarter before opening the second on a 9-2 run. It started off as a 7-0 streak thanks to buckets from senior Tessa Leece, Prophet and a triple from senior Madi Koski. That put the Patriots up 21-10 before Sturos ended the run with a putback.

A triple by Calumet junior Elli Djerf pulled the Copper Kings within 24-17. After that, scoring stalled out on both sides for the remainder of the half. The score remained the same for the final four minutes, with Westwood taking a seven-point lead into the break.

Calumet was unable to recover from Nelson’s eight-point third, which was also aided by five more points from Leece.

The Patriots managed to hold the Copper Kings to just three points in the fourth to pull away for good.

Calumet shot 11 of 49 for just over 22 percent. Westwood went 13 of 17 at the free throw line to Calumet’s 3 of 7.

Leece added nine points for the Patriots while senior Karlie Patron chipped in eight, also picking up nine of her team’s 26 rebounds.

Calumet was led by Djerf and sophomore Marybeth Halonen with eight points apiece. The Copper Kings made 28 rebounds with Halonen and sophomore Lizzie Torola each getting seven.

Tipoff between Westwood and Charlevoix in the Division 3 regional final is at 7 p.m. Thursday in Sault Ste. Marie.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.

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