Ending the season like we did definitely helped us with this one. —Westlake's Cooper Mattson
OREM — Westlake's season was put on the brink last Friday, with players and coaches feeling the experience helped them on Tuesday in defeating Region 3 champion Riverton 64-54 in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
To earn a spot in the postseason, the Thunder had to defeat American Fork for the last spot out of a tough Region 4. They did as much, rallying from 10 points down to come away with a 48-45 overtime win, with the players carrying that momentum into Tuesday's game.
"Ending the season like we did definitely helped us with this one," said Westlake's Cooper Mattson, who scored 15 points in Tuesday's win, but perhaps more importantly helped rally his team early after the Silverwolves got off to an 8-0 lead to start the game.
“Cooper has been our constant,” said Westlake coach Nate Carling. “He’s just steady. He makes shots when they come to him, but he never forces anything. Defensively — for being an undersized post guy — he really does a good job of controlling the paint for us.”
Mattson contributed 11 points in the first half on 4-4 shooting from the field and 3-3 shooting from 3-point range. His efforts helped trim Riverton's lead to just 29-26 at the half.
From there, Jared McGregor took over the lead for the Thunder, at least throughout the third quarter. The junior guard came out gunning en route to scoring 12 of Westlake's first 15 points of the third quarter to help gain a 48-46 advantage heading into the fourth.
“That is what he does. He kind of scores them in bunches, and if we can get that quarter out of him, we usually win those games,” Carling said. “He struggled in the first half hitting shots, so I was really proud of him to step up and hit those shots. That was big, and our team really feeds off him.”
Closing things out effectively was Austin White, who finished with 14 points, but none bigger than the three free throws made after picking Riverton clean late in the fourth quarter. Westlake was leading 55-50 with just over a minute left, when White's steal was parlayed into an intentional foul and a technical foul, with the junior guard making three of his four free throws, pushing the lead to 58-50.
With the win, Westlake advances to the quarterfinal round, where it will take on Layton on Thursday.