Westfield Wolverines claim Division 2 West banner

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Westfield guard Nathan Culbreth looks to pass during a basketball game on Monday against Sherman.

WESTFIELD — As Westfield senior captain Evan Hauser walked off his home court for the final time in the regular season, he told his coach, Bob North, “We got one, Coach.”

For the Westfield senior, ending the 19-year division title drought couldn’t have tasted any sweeter.

The Westfield Wolverines defeated the Sherman Wildcats on Monday night at Westfield Academy, 52-44, to capture the CCAA Division 2 West boys basketball division title outright for the first time since the year 2000.

“I’m so proud of our guys. It means everything to me,” said Hauser. “We wanted this. We practiced for this. We talked about it every day. We made it our goal and we accomplished it.”

Coach North knows the significance of the division title to his group, especially his four seniors.

“It means a lot to them, and it means a lot to me too. These kids will never forget it,” said North, who noted that while in 2009 his team earned a share of the division title, this year’s team is the first undisputed champion of the league since 2000.

It didn’t come easy for Westfield (14-6, 10-2) on Monday night, as defending league champion Sherman (8-11, 7-5) got out to an early lead. Westfield remained scoreless halfway through the first quarter, until Andrew Baribeau scored six straight points to put the Wolverines on top early.

Ryan Jafarjian drilled a 3-pointer for the Wolverines near the end of the first quarter, but Sherman answered with a layup with just a few seconds left to tie the score at nine after the first period of play.

Sherman pulled ahead through the first half of the second quarter, leading by as many as seven points before the Wolverines clawed back into it. Baribeau hit a pair of free-throws to cut the deficit to just three points, 21-18, but Sherman responded with the final five points of the first half to take a 26-18 lead into halftime.

“We were a little discouraged because we couldn’t throw it in the ocean in the first half,” said North. “If it weren’t for Andrew (Baribeau) we would’ve been in trouble.”

In the first two minutes of the second half, Westfield came out like a team playing for a division title should, with six straight points to cut the deficit to just a bucket. Baribeau appeared to eliminate the deficit completely, but was called for a questionable charge that infuriated the Westfield bench. The deficit didn’t last much longer, however, as Hauser connected on a fastbreak layup to tie the game at 26 apiece with 5:32 to go in the third quarter.

“In the second half, they (Westfield) are a veteran team … they turned up the intensity and we couldn’t quite match it,” said Sherman coach Cory Emory.

Junior Varsity call-up Darien Swanson drilled a 3-pointer to give Westfield the lead with 3:22 in the third quarter.

“Darien Swanson, my freshman call-up, he looked fine out there. He wasn’t afraid to shoot it,” said North.

The two teams traded one-score advantages until the final moments of the third quarter, where Westfield took a 36-33 lead into the final quarter. The Wolverines outscored the Wildcats 18-7 in the third quarter.

Two minutes into the final quarter, Westfield and Sherman were deadlocked again at 38-all. Westfield’s Michael Johnson was determined to change that — offensively or defensively — and he did. Johnson drilled a 3-pointer to give Westfield the lead — a lead that lasted the rest of the game.

“I thought Michael Johnson gave us a huge lift in the second half, especially defensively,” said North. “(Sherman leading scorer John Swabik) is tough, but he wanted the assignment and he came out strong. … Maybe he didn’t score a lot tonight, but boy did he defend.”

Jafarjian piled on three points of his own on an and-one layup that sent him tumbling to the floor. Westfield extended the lead to nine points in the final minute and held on for the eight-point victory, in a game where neither side led by double digits at any point.

“Down the stretch, they made the plays and we didn’t make the plays,” said Emory. “They may have had a little more of an edge playing for a division title, on their home floor on Senior Night. It was just a great game and a great atmosphere. They just got the better end.”

Baribeau led Westfield with 17 points on the night, while Jafarjian added 12. The Wolverines had 34 rebounds as a team, six of which came from Nathan Culbreth, who also had a team-high seven assists. John Swabik was the only player to reach double figures in scoring for Sherman, with a game-high 18 points.

“I told my team there was nothing to hang their heads about. We played against a very good team on their home floor in a very playoff-like atmosphere,” said Emory. “We’ve improved so much. Now we just have to get ready to put in the work for the playoff run.”

Sherman has one game left on the regular season, Friday night at Jamestown Community College against Pine Valley. Westfield now awaits a playoff matchup to see if Monday was the last time this group of Wolverines hit the floor together in Westfield. But no matter the outcome of the playoff brackets, Hauser made his goal of hanging a banner in the Westfield gym come to fruition in his final regular season game.

“It felt great. I’m so proud of how our team came out and came together,” said Hauser. “We all played great. … I couldn’t be happier.”

Twitter: @bradencarmen