ELYRIA — Two things can’t be taught or coached on the basketball floor: size and height.
Westlake used those assets to knock out defending champion Elyria 70-55 in Thursday’s Division I district semifinal at Midview. The Demons will play top-seeded Brecksville on Saturday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
The height was provided by 6-foot-8 junior Gavin Skelly, who blocked a half dozen shots and altered a number of others early enough to throw off Elyria’s usually steady shooting. Skelly finished with a triple double — 10 blocks, 12 rebounds and 10 points.
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“Ten blocks,” Elyria coach Brett Larrick said. “Six of those came in the first half and he probably changed four, five more. We didn’t come out with the same fire we had the second half.”
Skelly’s play also drew praise from his coach, Shawn Hood.
“I thought Gavin Skelly did as good a job on a great offensive player like (Isaiah) Walton as I’ve seen,” Hood said. “He’s always going to do what he does on the interior. He’s going to block shots, he’s going to make them miss, but to play that well on the outside was just awesome.”
The size was provided by Westlake’s linebacker-like tandem of 6-4 Jamie Lackner and 6-2 Bryan Mackenzie — two bulky football players who threw their bodies around inside to help provide the Demons with a huge and decisive 47-31 rebounding edge.
Mackenzie had seven rebounds and 19 points. Lackner had 11 rebounds and six points.
“Getting outrebounded by 15 the first half, that doesn’t help” Larrick said. “They have some big, strong, athletic kids. I thought Gavin had a real nice game. I thought Mackenzie was real aggressive. They got to the free throw line and they shot their free throws.”
“That was a major key to the game,” Hood said. “We wanted to try and pound (Elyria) on the glass. I told our guys just before we took the floor. ‘if we don’t pound them on the glass, we don’t deserve to win the game.’”
Elyria, which never led, shot just 28 percent (20-of-71) with its two sharpshooters — senior Kody Bender and Walton, a junior, combining to go 17-of-51 from the floor.
“It’s tough when you shoot that percentage for the game,” Larrick said. “Not one of our better shooting nights but a lot of it had to do with Skelly.”
Bender finished his four-year career with 27 points to give him 1,265 in his career — good for third all time at EHS. Walton added 18 but the rest of the Pioneers chipped in only 10.
“(Skelly) kind of took us out of what we wanted to do offensively,” Bender said. “We missed a lot of shots we should have made. They did a great job of playing defense and challenging shots.”
In spite of 18 first-half turnovers, Westlake eased out to a 36-23 lead at the break.
Elyria’s superior quickness helped whittle the deficit to just three points twice — 50-47 and 53-50 with 6:20 left — only to have Westlake’s Makis Beach answer each time with clutch 3-pointers to push the lead back to six.
It was an exhausted Elyria team that saw the Demons finish the game on a 14-5 run. Westlake was 10-of-13 from the free throw line over the final 5:19. Beach finished with 19 to tie Mackenzie for Demon scoring honors.
“We had the momentum going our way,” Bender said. “We got down the first half and they did a good job making big buckets when they needed to.”
“He hit some big shots,” Larrick said. “Beach came off the bench and did a real nice job. Four for five free throws, three for six threes. They shot 26 free throws, we shot 14.
“Give our kids credit. They fought like heck to come back the second half but it was just too much to come back from. It took a lot out of us trying to come back.”
“Honestly, I said this before the game,” said Hood when questioned about his team’s 26 turnovers. “I’m not worrying about turnovers. I’m worrying about our tournament intensity. The kids came out with that. I knew (Elyria) would turn us over a little bit.”
Westlake officially enters the finals at 10-14 but the Demons forfeited six games due to an OHSAA infraction. The Demons are seeking their first district title since 1993 while Brecksville is hoping to snap a 33-year drought. The Bees won the two conference games this year but both were close games.
Elyria finished at 18-6 — its best mark since 1986-87 — and Bender wound up with a career-best 450 points on the year.
“I’m glad I came here,” Bender said of his decision to open enrollment a freshman from North Ridgeville. “It’s been a heck of a ride.”
Westlake 70, Elyria 55
ELYRIA (55): Kody Bender 10-5-27, Dontae Dukes 0-2-2, Isaiah Walton 7-2-18, Anthony Duckett 1-0-2, A.J. Johnson 0-0-0, Tavon Kurtz 1-0-2, Du’Jaun Glover 0-0-0, Jarred Schultz 1-0-2, Ronnie Smith 0-2-2, Damon Stewart 0-0-0, Hunter Parsh 0-0-0, Rodger Jamison 0-0-0, Trenell Oliver 0-0-0, Blake Furcron 0-0-0. Totals 20-11-55.
WESTLAKE (70): Bryan Mackenzie 7-5-19, Shawn Turk 2-6-10, Danny Strodtbeck 1-4-6, Gavin Skelly 5-0-10, Jamie Lackner 2-2-6, Makis Beach 6-4-19, Connor Meek 0-0-0, Brian Guzik 0-0-0, Tyler Zach 0-0-0, Josef Hadib-Nissan 0-0-0. Totals 23-21-70.
Elyria 8 15 20 12 — 55
Westlake 12 24 14 20 — 70
Three-point goals: Elyria 4-23 (Bender 2, Walton 2), Westlake 3-12 (Beach 3); Field goals: Elyria 20-71 (28 percent), Westlake 23-47 (49 percent); Free throws: Elyria 11-14 (79 percent), Westlake 21-26 (81 percent); Rebounds: Elyria 31 (Kurtz 7), Westlake 47 (Skelly 12); Turnovers: Elyria 14, Westlake 26; Fouls: Elyria 24, Westlake 18; Technical foul: Kurtz; Fouled out: Dukes.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at (440) 329-7136 or at email@example.com.