Without a lot of style, but with lots of grit and determination, the Westhill boys basketball team earned another chance at earning a Section III Class B-1 championship.
The top-seed Warriors had to battle through a close-fought semifinal with no. 4 seed Skaneateles last Thursday night at Onondaga Community College before pulling away in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers 50-36.
These same two teams had met in this same semifinal round at this same venue a year ago, and Westhill won that game 53-39.
Aside from the different personnel involved, the primary contrast from the 2008 edition to this year was the fact that Westhill took a much longer time to gain control of the proceedings.
Two regular-season meetings, both won by the Warriors, had eliminated any possible secrets, so it wasn't too surprising that the defenses on both ends would make every possession a battle, every basket hard-earned.
Through all this, Tom Fisher would play a central role. The big Westhill junior center had eight of Westhill's 12 points in the first quarter as it pulled in front. When he went quiet, so did the Warriors, as the Lakers twice went ahead in the second period and only trailed by one, 20-19, at the break.
It took a while for Westhill to adjust to a situation where Dan Ross was not the primary offensive threat. Ross had just five points, unable to find much room to operate, even though his defense and rebounding remained sound.
This grind continued through the third quarter. Mike McMullen hit on a pair of 3-pointers, but against Skaneateles fought back. It was 27-27 late in the period before Nate Nigolian's free throw and Dan Karleski's jumper pushed Westhill ahead for good.
Then Fisher returned in the fourth quarter, using back-to-back baskets to launch a 14-4 run that put the game away. For the night, Fisher had 17 points, with McMullen contributing 13 points and Nigolian adding six points.