To lock up the coveted third place spot in the Metro League, Southridge harried and hogtied Westview with the caliber of defense that not only prospers in harsh road conditions, but postseason basketball as well.

Ahead just 41-40 with 2:41 to go on Friday in front a booming, chatty Wildcat student section the Skyhawks shunned their Metro counterpart, clamping down Westview with bellicose on-ball defense and demoralizing denials on the wings that completely clogged the Wildcats’ organized offensive sets.

Southridge held Westview just two points in the final 2:41 and came up with just enough points to fend off the pesky Wildcats and assert ownership of third place in Metro and a bye in the 6A’s “play-in” games, 46-42.

“Defense is always the emphasis on our team,” said junior forward Parker Gaddis. “We say defense is supposed to define us. We knew it was a big moment, so we just stepped up and stayed in the moment. We made sure we had each other’s gaps and we talked. That made the difference.”

“That’s kind of been our season,” said Westview junior forward Alex Carrick. “We can hang with any team and then there’s always a few mistakes that hurt us in the end. That’s what’s holding us back from being a great team.”

“We knew coming in what this game meant,” added Westview senior forward Mitch Kekel. “It sets up our future for our postseason, so it was tough. We just have to bounce back."

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior guard Ben Larsen scored 13 first half points for the Wildcats. Larsen led Westview with 15.

Gaddis said Southridge’s talk on defense in the fourth, its communication about who had help, who had deny, and who had ball, was the best it’s been all season. The Skyhawks created an impenetrable shell around the perimeter—particularly in the final two minutes or so—that was so rigid and unyielding that the Wildcats had to hold the ball for 30 seconds or more three times in the fourth because they couldn’t create any kind of open look.

“If we play defense like that, I don’t know who can score on us,” said Gaddis, who scored eight points for Skyhawks. “That’s what we need to do every time we step on the floor.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior point guard Grant Giraldi pump fakes Westview point guard David Coffey in the second half of the Skyhawks win on Friday.

“We’re an elite team when we play defense like that,” added Southridge senior forward Aly El-Mansy. “When everybody’s going after and playing hard on D, we can hang with anybody.”

Southridge’s Alex Beekman banked home a lefty lay-up with 2:28 left in the fourth that put the Skyhawks up 43-40. On the next possession, following a Southridge timeout, head coach Phil Vessel assembled a 2-3 zone that disoriented Westview into a throwing a skip pass that Gaddis tipped off David Coffey’s shoulder. The ball grazed the Wildcat’s appendage and rolled out of bounds to give the ball back to Southridge.

“Coach said that pass was going to be a steal if I was in the right position,” said Gaddis. “(Beekman) almost had one right before so after he didn’t get it I was like ‘I need to step up and get this one for our team.’ Fortunately it hit off his hand and went out. That was a big play.”

Skyhawk senior guard AJ Monterossi—who led the Skyhawks with 19 points and four dimes— made one of two free throws in a one-and-one scenario on the other end following Gaddis’ deflection to pad Southridge’s lead to 45-40 with 1:36 to go.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior point guard AJ Monterossi passes to senior post Griff Christiansen for a pick-and-roll basket. Monterossi had 19 points and four assists.

“When we defend, we feel like we can get any shot we want,” said Beekman. “We can get open and take care of whatever we need to do to close out games. When we started getting stops, we got a lot of confidence in our offensive game. The hoop kind of opens up when that happens.”

Coffey made two free throws to pull Westview within 45-42, but Monterossi responded with a freebie of his own to push the lead back to 46-42 with 34 seconds left.

Thirty seconds is plenty of time to get a shot off, score and extend the game, but Southridge altogether shut down Westview’s subsequent possession. The Wildcats were completely perimeter-oriented with the game on the line, and couldn’t probe the Skyhawks’ perimeter defense, which in turn forced head coach Pat Coons to angrily call time out with 11 seconds to go.

Carrick was hounded into a challenged air ball by Southridge’s Brian Pete, who also grabbed the rebound and iced the win for the playoff-bound Skyhawks.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior guard Hudson VanAllen makes his way to the hoop against Westviews Ben Larsen for two.

“We were really ready to punch them and attack them in the second half,” said El-Mansy. “We were talking a lot more and we were connected as a team. When we’re talking and attacking the right players we can guard anybody.”

In the latter parts of the second half, Carrick said the Wildcats’ execution started to lag. The ball movement didn’t flow or swing from side-to-side, the cuts weren’t as crisp or hard as they were in the first half. Southridge’s devotion to guarding hard turned Westview’s side of the court into a terror dome of sorts.

“The heat of the moment gets to us sometimes, including myself” said Carrick. “We just kind of lose it. We don’t have to be looser, but we have to play smarter.”

Fully aware Westview preferred to attack the rim via the drive, senior forward Alex Beekman said Southridge emphasized helping early and getting in position to affect the Wildcats’ attempts at the cup.

“They were flying around and we weren’t moving the ball too well,” said Kekel. “We just didn’t execute when it mattered, and that’s what it came down to. We have to have discipline and execute what we do in practice.”

In the second half, the Skyhawks took three charges—two on Carrick which stuck him on the bench for most of the third quarter— proof that Southridge received the message about seeing both its man and the ball and racing over to aid a teammate if need be. Southridge held Westview to eight points in the fourth quarter and got big hoops when needed offensively.

“We know if we focus on defense, our offensive game will come along with it,” said Beekman. “All season we’ve just been working and working, trying to get better on defense.”

“We really trusted each other,” added Gaddis. “There were some passes that seemed risky at times, but we just trusted that we’d be in the right place at the right time.”

Westview found all sorts of success in the first half, building a 28-23 halftime advantage. Senior Ben Larsen laced the nets with rainbow three balls that barely touched the rim on their descent.

The Wildcat guard lit up Southridge with 13 first half points, running around down picks and baseline screens like a Super G skier slaloming down the slopes to bury outside shots from the land of three. Larsen hit a trio of threes and also scored twice on backdoor cuts against an overextended, aggressive Southridge squad that likes to get out and pressure the basketball. Carrick scored five in the second quarter, getting to the rim and successively, the free throw line.

The junior had seven in the first half and never stopped working on the glass against Southridge’s Griff Christiansen. Larsen led the Wildcats with 15 points. Kekel tacked on eight.

“It all started with confidence,” said Carrick, who finished with seven points. “We made our first couple baskets of the game and our confidence just grew. We felt we could get whatever we wanted.”

Southridge trailed 34-33 going into the fourth. But, Monterossi scored on a steal and swished two free throws to swing the lead back to the Skyhawks’ favor. Isaiah Reel’s three from the right corner in the fourth gave Southridge the lead for good.

“They came out and hit us first but it was good for us to bounce back,” said Gaddis. “We’re starting to find our mojo again.”

The Wildcats will have to settle for Metro’s fourth place, though Westview will host a “play-in” game this Friday against a to be determined opponent. Win, and Westview will advance to the first round of the 6A playoffs.

“When we play our game, we can play with anyone,” said Kekel. “We’ve taken some of the top teams in the state down to the wire. We just have to play our game every day.”

“We’re a sleeper,” added Carrick. “I’m confident playing any team there is. I know our team is confident, too. I think a few teams would be scared to play us in the playoffs knowing we’re solid when we play well.”

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