TAYLORSVILLE – Westlake fans chanted “Ooh! Ooh! You wish you went to Westlake!” as the clock spun down in Thursday’s Class 6A state basketball semifinal game at Salt Lake Community College.
The No. 1-seeded Thunder are the envy of the state after beating Region 4 rival and No. 4 American Fork 68-60 to reach the school’s first-ever state championship game.
“It’s huge, man,” said Westlake’s Caleb Furey, who led his team with 17 points. “This is so fun, You can hear it in there (the locker room) right now. Everyone is so excited. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point so we’re going to enjoy it.”
The victory also avenged a loss at home to the Cavemen in the final week of the Region 4 season.
“We got a lot of fight to play those guys,” senior Noah McCord said. “We don’t like them, you know? We’ve battled on the court before. This is our third time playing them. They snapped our (16-game) winning streak and they snapped our senior night. They were talking trash the entire game so we really wanted this one bad.”
The semifinal game was tied nine times through the first two and a half quarters but Westlake finally gained some separation. Oakley Slade scored seven points in a 12-4 run and his long jumper sent the Thunder to a 48-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Westlake shared the ball throughout the game and finished with 16 assists.
“You look at basketball across the country and you don’t see that,” Thunder coach Nate Carling said. “A lot of it is we have great kids that have been together for a long time. That’s probably the biggest key.
“These kids have played together. They know each other, they love each other and they trust each other. They only care about the results. We got a little lead and AF started to pressure. We executed a couple of great backdoors in the third quarter. Great cuts and layups, those are real backbreakers on a team trying to get back into the game. We really executed. We kept our composure and in a semifinal game to have that was really impressive.”
Westlake led by as many as ten points early in the fourth quarter but American Fork valiantly made a game of things, closing to 53-48 after a steal and a basket by Yaw Reneer with 3:33 remaining. But that was as close as the Cavemen could come. Furey scored twice on breakaways in the final two minutes and the Thunder converted at the foul line to lock things up.”
Westlake (21-3) shot 56 percent from the field in the second half. Kaden Hoppins and Noah Madsen added 14 points each and McCord – whose older brother Asa was on the last Thunder team to reach the semifinals (2016) – filled the stat sheet with five points, ten rebounds, three assists and four blocks.
Jaxon Kohler put up big numbers in the game for American Fork (17-7) with 26 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks. But the 6-foot-8 junior was just 11 of 25 from the field as Westlake surrounded him with multiple defenders and kept him off-balance, with the physical work of 6-6 senior Keilan Torkornoo leading the way.
“Westlake did a really good job in hitting some big shots that kind of separated them,” AF coach Ryan Cuff said. “They did good job spreading it out and making us defend and they made some free throws. You can win or you can lose but if you walk away and not learn things from the experience then you don’t become who you are meant to become. This is why love coaching basketball. This allows us to rise up and keep our heads up and recognize lot of character building through this process.”
Westlake will play Region 1 champion Davis on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Salt Lake Community College for the 6A championship.