Orem • As often is the case, earning something that’s difficult can feel more than a little rewarding.
The Westlake boys’ basketball team, which upset Region 3 champion Riverton 64-54 in Tuesday’s first round of the Class 6A state tournament, is a perfect example of that.
The Thunder had to win their last two games to make the tournament, the second a play-in game with American Fork on Friday where the Saratoga Springs school trailed by 10 in the third quarter.
“We play in a very tough region and had to really battle to get here,” Westlake coach Nate Carling said. “We felt battle tested. Playing that play-in game Friday really helped coming in with this game. We already dealt with the reality of hey, you lose, you go home.”
Cooper Mattson, who led Westlake with 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two assists, had similar sentiments.
“We feel like we can beat anyone,” he said. “Our region is so packed with talent. We finished on a good 2-0 run and had a lot of momentum in the state tournament.”
The Thunder also had to deal with a slow start in this one. Riverton and super sophomore Richie Saunders jumped out to a 8-0 lead and led the majority of the first half.
The game turned early in the second half when Jared McGregor got hot. He hit three 3-pointers and a free throw to help Westlake quickly erase a 29-26 halftime deficit.
The Thunder took the lead for good early in the third quarter and slowly built up the lead. Riverton rallied to within 51-50 with 4:39 to play, but a big shot by Mattson and some great free-throw shooting by Austin White sealed the deal. White and Kakoa Baker both had 14 points.
Saunders finished with 18 points for Riverton, and Gavin Henderson added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
So was this Westlake’s biggest win?
Carling wouldn’t go that far. He remembered when the Thunder beat a good Brighton team to make the state semifinals a few years ago. But he said this ranked right up there.
WESTLAKE 64, RIVERTON 54
• Westlake, which needed a play-in game win Friday, survives a slow start to upset Region 3 champion Riverton.
• Cooper Mattson, Kakoa Baker, Austin White and Jared McGregor all hit double figures in points for the Thunder.
• Sophomore Richie Saunders paces Riverton with 18 points.