Westwood’s big upset bid comes up just short

IRON MOUNTAIN – Iron Mountain’s perfect mark was nearly tarnished by winless Westwood on Thursday.

The Mountaineers converted 12 of 18 free throws in the final five minutes, including four from Gerry Pirkola in the last 19 seconds, to shade the Patriots 46-43 in Mid-Peninsula Conference boys basketball.

“It was a grind-it-out game and we ground it out and won,” Mountaineer coach Bucky Johnson said. “Our free throw shooting down the stretch was clutch.

“For three quarters of the game we were good defensively.”

Iron Mountain, despite scoring just three points in the third quarter, opened the fourth with a pair of Luke Zambon baskets to build a 32-22 lead with 6:39 to go.

Westwood, after a 17-point first half and just five in the third quarter, broke loose for 21 in the final stanza. A Josh Richards’ triple with 23 seconds left sliced the gap to 42-41.

“We put some points up in the second half because we picked up our pace and got them a little uncomfortable,” Westwood coach Ryan Reichel said. “But they made some free throws down the stretch and that’s the way you win the close ones.

“We did win the points battle in the second half (26-21).”

After Richards’ 3-pointer, Pirkola sank two free throws with 19 seconds to go for a 44-41 difference. Westwood’s Luke Woods answered with a bucket but Pirkola netted two more free throws with five seconds to go.

The Patriots misfired on a final 3-point try to tie the defensive struggle. Both coaches cited solid man-to-man defense and familiarity with the other team’s offense for the low score.

“Westwood was well prepared for our offense,” Johnson said. “Teams are well scouted at this time of the year.

“We had a 10-point lead and I don’t know if we started feeling comfortable or what. We kind of let them back in the game.”

Zambon led the Mountaineers with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Taylor Huotari added 12 points and Pirkola had 10.

“We worked all Christmas break on getting better defensively,” Reichel said. “I thought both teams played excellent defense.

“It just comes down to execution and they executed a little better in the first half (for a 25-17 lead).”

Travis Swanson’s 15 points (eight in the second half) and 14 rebounds paced the Patriots.

“In the second half we played a lot better and you could see the fire out there,” Reichel said. “That’s a good (Iron Mountain) team and they were supposed to be down this year.”

Both teams took care of the ball, with Iron Mountain showing seven turnovers and Westwood with five.

“We didn’t play hard-nosed enough defensively in the fourth quarter,” said Johnson in noting Westwood’s 21 points over the final 5:39. “We have to get a few other guys to produce points for us.”

Iron Mountain’s unbeaten record (6-0 overall, 4-0 MPC) will be threatened by Marquette on Monday.

Westwood won the JV game, 41-37.