Mar 01, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
What the Westhill girls basketball team lacked, in terms of its ability to convert shots, it made up for with an all-out effort that nearly brought down Utica-Notre Dame in Friday night’s Section III Class B final at the Carrier Dome.
But that effort did not prove enough as the Jugglers, led by Emily Durr and Jaclyn Hajec, overcame the Warriors’ gritty performance to prevail by a score of 46-39 and repeat as sectional champions.
“We were ready, we competed, and our defense was pretty good,” said Westhill coach Sue Ludwig. “We just had a lot of missed opportunities.”
Much of the game’s attention involved the pair of Division I talents on either side – Pennsylvania-bound Anna Ross for Westhill, Iowa State-bound Durr for UND.
To the Warriors, though, something else was on the mind – namely, payback for last year’s sectional quarterfinals, when the Jugglers walked into Westhill’s gym and rolled to a 60-40 victory on its way to the championship.
Also, there was that small matter of the Warriors trying to end an 11-year sectional title drought. UND, the state’s no. 3-ranked team, had blown through the early portions of the sectional tournament, smashing Holland Patent, Skaneateles and Sherburne-Earlville in their three playoff games by an average margin of more than 32 points.
Westhill got the start it wanted, as UND was cold from the field and Ross hit her team’s first nine points on everything from a driving lay-up to a 3-pointer. That, plus a basket from Sam Peebles and a 3-pointer from Delaney Martin, gave the Warriors a 14-11 edge.
The Jugglers found itself unable to get many rebounds and turned the ball over in the face of Westhill’s defensive pressure throughout the first half. Yet the Warriors could not take full advantage of it, for after UND switched from man-to-man to zone for its defense, Westhill was forced into more outside shots, and nothing would fall.
UND sneaked in front, 22-20, by the break. Ross, with 14 points and contributions in all phases of the game, was outplaying Durr, who had a modest eight points. Ludwig said her side played well enough to lead, but hurt itself with those struggles from the field.
As the third quarter wore on, the Warriors fell into a deeper drought, unable to score for more than four minutes, while Durr took over the way Ross had done at the outset, earning her team’s first nine points of the period.
Despite this, Westhill only trailed 33-27 going to the fourth quarter. It endured a field-goal drought of more than nine minutes before Peebles banked in a 3-pointer with 4:20 left, and shortly after the Warriors pulled within two, 37-35, with a long way to go.
UND moved the margin back to eight, 43-35, and looked to put it away, but the Warriors still weren’t done as Mary Kate Washburn, and then Ross, hit back-to-back baskets to make it 43-39, and almost got closer before Martin missed an inside chance with less than a minute to play.
During the ensuing scramble for the ball, Durr appeared to injure her left leg. But it turned out to be a cramp, and after an exchange of misses, Durr returned and converted the clinching basket with 18.4 seconds left, giving her 23 points for the night.
Just as crucial to UND’s effort was Hajec, who worked inside and finished with 14 points, giving the Jugglers a second offensive option that Westhill could not quite match.
Ross finished with 25 points, as she and Peebles, who had seven points, ended storied five-year varsity careers having accrued every possible honor, from a team and individual basis, except a sectional title that, for Westhill, remains elusive.
Still, said Ludwig, “we competed hard. I’m proud of our kids.”