Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
This morning, the Westlake Demons are exactly where they wanted to be:
In the Division I district championship game.
The Demons, playing with what head coach Shawn Hood called “tournament intensity,” jumped out to an early lead and held off a determined Elyria squad in the second half. That effort allowed them to come away with a 70-55 win over the Pioneers in a district semifinal matchup at Midview High School.
“We stepped our intensity at the beginning more than we did the first time we played them,” said Westlake’s senior point guard Shawn Turk, who had 10 points and six rebounds. “We took care of the ball better. I don’t know if I took better care of it, but as a team I think we did.
“We moved the ball around and played our offense, and that worked for us. And everybody was in there battling under the boards trying to get the rebound. That was big for us,” he added.
Westlake dominated the boards early and had a 47-31 rebounding edge when it was all said and done. They outscored Elyria in three of the four quarters, including a 20-12 fourth quarter after the Pioneers had pulled to within three points, 53-50, with 6:20 left in the game.
As a result, Turk and the Demons will now face Southwestern Conference rival Brecksville Saturday at 7 p.m. with a shot at the Sweet 16 at stake.
“We wanted to pound them on the glass,” said Hood, whose team survived 26 turnovers to maintain a lead throughout the entire game. A 12-12 tie early in the second quarter was as close as Elyria got the entire night.
“That was a major part of the plan coming in,” Hood said. “Right before the game I told the guys if we don’t pound them on the glass, we don’t deserve to win the game. I think the kids responded to that, and we got it done.
“The turnovers? That is the only offensive rule we play with: don’t turn the ball over. Facing that kind of quickness, though, you’re going to turn the ball over a little bit. But honestly, I’m not worried about your turnovers. I’m more concerned about your tournament intensity.
“That has been our term so far throughout the tournament: Tournament intensity. The kids came out with that tonight,” he added.
With Elyria threatening early in the fourth quarter, the Demons got a big lift when Markis Beach drained a 3-pointer. It was his second of the quarter and third of the game. The trey sparked a 17-5 run to close out the game and send the Demons to Saturday’s title game.
“His threes today are certainly a product of his hard work,” Hood said of his junior guard. “He takes a lot of extra shots in practice. But that’s also a product of our philosophy. All season long, whether he was making shots or missing them, we kept believing in him.
“And that’s who we are. That’s how we do it. We’re going to let our kids shoot the basketball, and we’re going to let them play. If you’ve seen us play at all, you’ve never seen Beach hesitate on a shot. He’s just not going to do that, and tonight you saw the results,” he added.
Another big factor - despite foul trouble - was the play of 6-8 junior Gavin Skelly. He had several blocked shots early on in the game - several against Elyria’s Issiah Walton - as the Demons built their lead and was a force on the boards as well even when sitting most of the third quarter with four fouls.
Skelly finished with a triple-double: 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
“I think Gavin really frustrated Walton early,” Hood said. “I don’t think Walton was really able to recover. I know he had 18 points, but his shooting percentage was well under 50.
“I’d say we have a new defender in town in Gavin Skelly out on the perimeter. He’s always going to do what he does on the interior. He’s going to block shots and he’s going to make them miss. But to play that well on the outside was awesome,” he added.
Walton did end up with 18 points, while Kody Bender led all scorers with 27 points. But there wasn’t much offensive production for the Pioneers after that.
“It’s tough when you shoot that kind of percentage for the game,” said Elyria head coach Brett Larrick, whose team made just 24 of 94 shots from the floor for 26 percent.
“It wasn’t one of our better shooting nights, but a lot of that had to do with Skelly,” Larrick said. “He had 10 blocks, and a lot of those were in the first half. He probably changed four or five more shots.
“But we didn’t come out in the beginning with the same fire that we did in the second half. There’s only one way we have to play. I give my kids credit because they fought like heck in the second half, but it was just too much to comeback from,” he added.
Beach and Bryan Mackenzie led the Demons with 19 points each, while Mackenzie contributed in the rebounding effort with seven.