When it gets rough and uneven, as it often does for the Westhill boys basketball team, defense is always there to serve as the life preserver.
So it was for the no. 2 seed Warriors in last Friday's Section III Class B-1 semifinal at Onondaga Community College, where it simply shut down no. 3 seed Skaneateles and overcame a sloppy showing to beat the Lakers 53-39.
That win allows Westhill (17-5) to come back to OCC Wednesday night and go for the B-1 title against red-hot Bishop Grimes (15-7) at 7 p.m. The winner advances to Manley Field House for Sunday's overall Class B final against Hannibal or Lowville.
Knowing, from two previous regular-season encounters, that Skaneateles wanted to control the tempo, Westhill ran where it could, especially late in the first quarter when it closed on a 12-4 run to break an early 6-6 tie and go in front for good.
From there, the defense began to take over. Everywhere Skaneateles went on the court, a Westhill player was there offering pressure on the ball, contesting every dribble, pass and shot in a physical dance that caused the Lakers immense frustration.
Thus, when the Warriors' offense slowed down in the second quarter and managed just seven points, it didn't cost them anything, and it went to halftime nursing a 25-17 lead.
Much of the second half was a stop-and-go exercise full of whistles. Constantly going to the line, Westhill would end up taking 32 free throws and Skaneateles 21.
Through it all, the Lakers could not put much of a dent into the Warriors' lead, never getting closer than six points in those last two periods as the defense, even with all those fouls, wore Skaneateles down.
Dan Ross led a three-pronged Westhill attack with 16 points. Close behind him, Matt Noonan poured in 14 points, six of them free throws, while Mike Stirpe earned seven of his 13 points at the foul line.