Feb 29, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Over the last nine years, much of the reason why the Westhill girls basketball team has not earned a Section III title is because South Jefferson has stood in the way.
And so it was again Tuesday night at Liverpool High School, the Warriors victimized by both its own foul trouble and the splendid effort of the Spartans in a 52-41 defeat.
“Give credit to South Jefferson – they played great defense,” said Westhill head coach Sue Ludwig. “They made it tough for us all night.”
Many different elements added to the night’s anticipation. Both Westhill and South Jefferson arrived at this point with 20-0 records. Both were in the top five of the state Class B rankings.
Also, the Spartans remembered how, a year ago, it got stunned at home by Westhill in the Class B quarterfinals, which just happened to be Ludwig’s 400th career win.
So a capacity crowd in the Liverpool gym was eager to see how this latest edition of the Westhill-South Jefferson power struggle would go. Largely due to the work of sophomore Austin Stevens, it went in the Spartans’ favor.
Midway through the first quarter, Stevens announced her presence with a 3-pointer. Then, with her team down 13-10 early in the second period, Stevens hit on a runner and a pair of free throws, which put South Jefferson ahead for keeps.
No play, though, was as big as what took place later in that period, with Westhill only trailing 21-19. As the Warriors’ own star sophomore, Anna Ross, sped to the basket, Stevens went to the middle, Ross charged into her, and was whistled for a foul.
South Jefferson coach Pat Bassett said that Roberts is an expert at taking charges this season – by his count, 20 – and none of them were bigger than this one. Just like that, Ross, Westhill’s best all-around player and strongest defender, had picked up her third foul, and had to miss the rest of the half.
Taking full advantage of Ross’s absence, Roberts hit on another basket and two more free throws, giving her 13 points for the half, and South Jefferson took a 27-20 lead to the break.
Ludwig said that, while the foul trouble to Ross and fellow starter Kelly Mascari was a big concern, the bigger problem was that Westhill could not convert on a series of wide-open looks at the basket, whether it was inside, or whether it was 3-point attempts by the likes of Sam Peebles, who did not hit a field goal all night.
“We just didn’t make shots,” said Ludwig. “We had our opportunities, but they (South Jefferson) take you out of your game.”
Stevens wasn’t done tormenting Westhill. Just as the Warriors closed the gap to 37-32 late in the third quarter, Stevens’ drive to the basket led to a three-point play, and she also drained a 3-pointer before the horn, making it 43-32.
Despite a superb effort in the paint from Gwen Dougherty, who led Westhill with 14 points, and Tripodi’s 11 points, the Warriors never got closer than nine points again. Stevens finished with 23 points, getting ample support from forward Amanda Roberts, who added 16 points.
Ross finished with eight points, but as she fouled out in the final minute, she went to the bench with her face in her hands, a crushing disappointment after a superb season where, according to Ludwig, Westhill had nothing to be ashamed about.
“We worked hard and made the most of ourselves,” she said. “We played to our potential, and that’s a good thing. We will be back.”
About that last part, Ludwig has a good chance to be right. Other than Dougherty and reserve Steph Baron, everyone else, including Ross, Peebles, Tripodi and Mascari, come back for 2012-13, burning to get the Warriors to the top again.