It appeared that the wheels had come off for the Westlake boys basketball team in the second half of the 6A quarterfinal showdown against Lone Peak in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday.
The Thunder had seen a 12-point halftime lead erased as the Knights had built a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Not only that but Westlake had a couple of big layups down the stretch waved off because of offensive fouls.
In the end, however, the Thunder once again relied on their defense to get the job done. Westlake forced a couple of critical steals that allowed the home team to surge in front and secure the 53-47 win.
“We got enough steals late in the game and those led to points,” Thunder head coach Nate Carling said. “We take pride in our defense. It’s what allowed us to get the big lead early. We were able to really lock down in those last four minutes of the game to get out with the victory.”
Westlake senior Caleb Furey explained that this group of players has really bought in to the ideals of playing defense at a high level.
“We know if we do that, we can score on offense,” Furey said. “We’ve been good on defense all year and had that mindset. There was a lot of pressure late in the game. We knew they were going to make their run. We just had to come back and have it be our turn.”
The Thunder were down 47-45 with half of the fourth quarter to play but Westlake got a big layup by senior Keilan Torkornoo to tie the score.
After the two teams jockeyed back and forth, the Thunder forced a steal that turned into a layup by senior Noah McCord. Then Westlake got another steal and Furey drilled both ends of a one-and-one at the free throw line to give the Thunder a two-possession lead.
“We have to give a lot of credit to Westlake,” Lone Peak head coach Rob Ross said. “They do an unbelievable job of being ready every game. Kudos to them.”
Westlake was led by 16 points from Furey, while the Knights were paced by 15 points from senior Ethan Copeland.
Although Lone Peak would love to still be playing, Ross hopes his team takes more away from this season than just what happened on the court.
“Win and losses come and go,” Ross said. “We hope these boys treasure the brotherhood and friendships they have developed. Hopefully they take these experiences and stay connected for the next 50 years.”
Westlake advances to face American Fork in the 6A semifinals on Thursday.
“It means a lot to get to this point,” Furey said. “We’ve been together for years and we know we are capable of big things. It’s fun being out there with this group of seniors.”
Carling said this is where the Thunder expected to be from the start.
“We had our all-state center go down but this team fought through the adversity and didn’t lose confidence,” Carling said. “These kids have shown a lot of heart with how they fought through and got to this point.”
Westlake will face the Cavemen at Salt Lake Community College on Thursday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.