Prep girls basketball: Ishpeming tops Westwood in Class C district semifinals

ISHPEMING – Fundamentals were the name of the game as the Ishpeming High School girls’ basketball team (15-6 overall, 10-3 in the Mid-Peninsula conference) knocked Westwood (13-8, 10-3) out of the MHSAA Class C district tournament with a 46-37 win Wednesday in Ishpeming.

“Those little things – making free throws, being in the right spot defensively – those are huge in any game, especially a tournament game, especially against a good team,” Ishpeming head coach Tom Graves said.

After tying at 11 just a few minutes into the game, the Hematites scored eight unanswered points to break away from the Patriots in the first quarter. Ishpeming extended its lead into double digits, entering halftime ahead 27-15.

The Hematites hit 90 percent of their free throws in the first half, which created an advantage that allowed some wiggle room for mistakes later on in the game.

Westwood hit its stride in the third quarter, matching the Hematites with 13 points and eventually cutting the lead back down to single digits.

The Patriots were down by just five points midway through the final quarter of play, 42-37, but were unable to close the gap entirely.

“You can make it as complicated as you want, but we got beat fundamentally tonight,” Westwood coach Kurt Corcoran said.

“We can’t dig ourselves an 18-point hole and expect to climb out of it by not making free throws, by missing layups and not rebounding.”

The Patriots struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 4 of 13 attempts for 30.8 percent. The Hematites outrebounded Westwood 32-26, with a handful of offensive boards that converted into Ishpeming points.

“I don’t know how many points they got off of the offensive glass, but that was our biggest downfall tonight,” Corcoran said. “You can’t win a basketball game against a team the caliber of Ishpeming if you don’t box out.”

In addition, two of Westwood’s top players – seniors Caitlin Hewitt and Elizabeth VanBuren – fouled out of the game, which was the dagger in the Patriots’ near-comeback.

“Those two have been our heart and soul all season long and it’s tough to see them on the bench,” Corcoran said.

Graves said knocking Hewitt and VanBuren out of the game was a combination of Westwood’s physicality and Ishpeming’s aggressiveness while driving to the basket, and it forced a couple Patriots to play who likely would not have otherwise.

“This time of year, if you don’t shoot the ball strong, the referees aren’t going to give you the benefit of the doubt,” Graves said.

“We were fortunate that we were able to get them into foul trouble.”

Junior Jessica Spencer led Ishpeming with 14 points, while junior Kaylie Engler and senior Gabby Croley scored 10 apiece. Spencer also led the Hematites in rebounds with 11.

VanBuren scored a team-high 11 points for the Patriots, and senior Amber Salo added 10. Junior Katie Rankinen led Westwood with seven boards.

The Hematites advance to the District Championship, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday in Ishpeming, where they will play Negaunee. The Miners defeated Gwinn 47-40 on Wednesday, and Graves said he expects a challenging game.

The Miners beat the Hematites a week ago today, 53-48, in Negaunee for a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference title.

“They’re a scrappy bunch, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Graves said. “Our girls play exceptionally hard, and now they’re learning to compete hard. That will be vital on Friday.”