It might be getting the huge call that could go either way at a crucial time in the game. It might be making clutch free throws down the stretch in front of a friendly crowd. It might be a huge defensive stop. It might even be a backbreaking 3-pointer late in the final moments.
For Elyria on Tuesday night it was all of those things as the Pioneers edged Westlake 47-44 in a defensive dandy at the Pioneers gym. Elyria improved to 8-2, while the Demons fell to 5-3.
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The biggest shot of the night was Isaiah Walton’s 3-pointer that gave Elyria a 46-44 lead with 26 seconds left. Kody Bender accounted for the final score by making the front end of a two-shot bonus foul situation with 13.8 seconds remaining and the Pioneers preserved the lead with full-court pressure that prevented Westlake from getting off a decent shot as time expired.
Walton led all scorers with 21 points.
“I really don’t know what I’m thinking,” Walton said of the huge shot. “I’m just taking what the defense is giving me. They gave me a three and I just took it. It’s a good thing I hit it. I gave him (Gavin Skelly) a little shoulder fake and he gave me enough space to get the three off.”
“Absolutely,” said Westlake coach Shawn Hood when asked if that’s the shot he wanted to see Elyria take at that point, “but it’s also where he wanted to shoot it from. As soon as he touched the ball, I thought he was going to rise up and shoot the three.”
The calls? They just seemed to go Elyria’s way enough of the time. Bender managed to create enough situations to get to the foul line 11 times where he cashed in on nine. His 16 points leave him just four short of joining Louis Tumblin, Brett Larrick (his coach), Demetrius Dalton, Richard Montague, Ted Gottfried and Robert Nelson as Elyria 1,000-point career scorers.
“We have two really good guards in Kody and Isaiah,” Larrick said. “Isaiah hit a big three and Kody did a good job taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line. We got to the bonus.”
“Getting to the line makes me feel a lot better about my shot,” said Bender, admittedly in a little shooting funk from the field (3-of-10 Tuesday). I got to the line and I could hit some shots. It felt really good to finally hit some shots.”
“I think you leave it up to the kids,” Hood said of a couple late foul calls — including a huge offensive foul on Skelly in the backcourt that gave the ball back to Elyria just prior to Bender’s final free throws. “There was no foul but when (Elyria’s) bench screamed, the whistle blew. Overall, the officials were fine but I just think you let the kids decide it at the end.”
The defense? Elyria put the clamps on Skelly, the Demons’ 6-foot-8 junior, in the second half. Skelly scored nine points in the first half when the Demons opened a 27-20 advantage that included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Shawn Turk at the end of the half.
Skelly was 4-of-6 from the floor and 1-of-4 at the line at halftime but missed all three of his attempts in the third quarter and didn’t get a shot off in the fourth as Elyria rallied. He didn’t get to the line at all in the second half.
In the backcourt, Bender, Walton, Dontae Dukes, Ronnie Smith and Da’Jaun Glover all gave the Pioneers’ the kind of full-court pressure and double-teaming defense they needed.
“I thought the whole game we played hard defensively,” Larrick said. “Our guys did a great job scrambling. They had single digits third and fourth quarter. That was full court — 94 feet — different guys on the ball, different guys taking away with strong hands. Skelly … I thought we played great team defense.”
Skelly picked off 15 rebounds to secure a huge 34-25 advantage for Westlake in that department but with the likes of Tavon Kurtz, Jarred Schultz, Damon Stewart and A.J. Johnson collapsing on him, it made life miserable for Skelly on the offensive end. None of Elyria’s players measure over 6-4.
Elyria held the Demons to just 17 second-half points while scoring 27.
The Demons, after hitting 11-of-26 from the field the first half, including all four of their 3-pointers, were just 6-of-23 in the second. Five fourth-quarter turnovers didn’t help Westlake’s cause either.
“Ball wouldn’t go in,” Hood said. “It had everything to do with (Elyria). It had everything to do with their quickness. They turned it up a notch the second half. They came after us.”
“We had guys battling hard,” Larrick said. “Five different guys in there trapping (Skelly) and the guards on the weak side. Our kids really scrambled after a so-so first half.
“I think our mental toughness and focus was there. Our guys showed they can handle some adversity and fight back.”
Elyria 47, Westlake 44
WESTLAKE (44): Bryan Mackenzie 4-1-10, Gavin Skelly 4-1-9, Shawn Turk 1-0-3, Danny Strodtbeck 2-2-7, Jamie Lackner 1-2-4, Aaron Wargo 0-0-0, Makis Beach 1-0-2, Josef Hadib-Nissan 2-0-5, Connor Meek 2-0-4, Brian Guzik 0-0-0. Totals 17-6-44.
ELYRIA (47): Kody Bender 3-9-16, Dontae Dukes 1-0-2, Isaiah Walton 9-0-21, Ronnie Smith 1-0-3, A.J. Johnson 1-0-2, Du’Jaun Glover 1-0-3, Tavon Kurtz 0-0-0, Jarred Schultz 0-0-0, Damon Stewart 0-0-0, Hunter Parsh 0-0-0, Anthony Duckett 0-0-0. Totals 16-9-47.
Westlake 13 14 8 9 — 44
Elyria 10 10 16 11 — 47
Three-point goals: Westlake 4-11 (Mackenzie, Turk, Strodtbeck, Hadib-Nissan), Elyria 6-13 (Walton 3, Bender, Smith, Glover); Field goals: Westlake 17-44 (39 percent), Elyria 16-43 (37 percent); Free throws: Westlake 6-11 (54.5 percent), Elyria 9-15 (60 percent); Rebounds: Westlake 34 (Skelly 15), Elyria 25 (Bender 9); Turnovers: Westlake 20, Elyria 13; Fouls: Westlake 18, Elyria 13.
Junior varsity: Elyria, 52-35.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at (440) 329-7136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.