WESTFIELD, NJ — Thanks to a rejuvenated second-half performance, the Westfield girls' basketball team remains undefeated after pulling away with a 43-29 victory over Union Catholic on Tuesday. The Blue Devils' 7-0 record is their best start in school history for the girls' basketball program.
Junior Jackie Knapp lead the Blue Devils in scoring with 14 points while also contributing on defense, coming up with five steals. The Blue Devils top scorer on the season, junior Lillian Scott, managed 12 points, six assists, and tied a team high with six steals along with freshman Hannah Liddy.
Sophomore Janya Henderson led Union Catholic in scoring with 13 points. Another bright spot for Union Catholic was their 6 foot- 3 inch-tall Junior center Donnae Days, who rebounded the ball throughout the game. Days sustained a leg injury early in the fourth quarter and did not return to the game.
The Blue Devils started the game out with great ball movement, passing the basketball well and getting teammates involved on offense. Westfield's athleticism and speed helped them force lots of turnovers on defense. The Blue Devils’ backcourt defense created havoc for Union Catholic's two guards, Henderson sisters Janya and Samirah.
Westfield's defense came up 23 steals over the course of the game. At the end of the first quarter the Blue Devils lead Union Catholic 11-5.
Westfield tried to score quickly on their fast break opportunities early in the second quarter, but Union Catholic started to play great transition defense, slowing down Westfield and disrupting their game plan. Westfield started turning the ball over frequently. Union Catholic offense started to click on offense, going on a 12-2 run from the start of the second quarter until there was a minute left before half time. Union Catholic took their first lead of the game when there was 2:08 left in the first half.
In Westfield's last possession of the half they struggled to find an open shooter. With a few seconds left on the clock Lillian Scott hoisted up a shot, but it was blocked by Janya Henderson.
The Union Catholic Vikings went into halftime leading 17-15, outscoring Westfield 12-4 in the quarter.
Blue Devil's head coach Joseph Marino described his halftime message he said to his team: “I told them 'Keep your head up, keep working hard, we got to break them down. Teams are going to take shots at us. You're a good team, and there's no doubt in my mind that you're going to out play them in the second half.'"
Marino's message seemed spark Westfield as they came out in the second half running down the court, showing off their superior speed and athleticism, scoring quickly in transition. Westfield's attacked Union Catholic's defense in transition with intensity, going on a 12-4 scoring tear in the first 8 minutes of the third quarter.
The Blue Devils stole all momentum from the Vikings when Lillian Scott grabbed several consecutive offensive rebounds after several of her putback shots rimmed out of the basket. Scott was finally fouled attempting her fourth putback as the crowd applauded. Scott made one of two free throws, making the second attempt.
Union Catholic tried to inbound the ball, but Westfield's backcourt defense made it difficult for the inbounder to find an open player. The inbounder squeezed a pass to a tightly guarded player but a Westfield defender knocked the ball out of the Vikings player's hands and the Blue Devils defender scored an easy layup.
Westfield ended their hot third quarter leading 32-23, outscoring Union Catholic 17-6 in the quarter. The Blue Devils turned a two-point deficit into an 11 point lead, while also outscoring their half time point total (15), scoring 17 points in the third quarter alone.
"Our performance is as expected. We know what we have as a team, we work hard, we have great skilled players. It was a matter of time before we were going to break this team down," said Marino. "We knew they were going to have that big girl in the middle, and they were going to pinch the middle and keep us from driving. But with our speed and athletic ability, I knew it was a matter of time before we'd pull this one out."
In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Union Catholic cut into the Blue Devil's lead. Seeing his team losing momentum, Marino called a timeout just a few minutes into the quarter.
The Blue Devils pushed the tempo on offense and put up points again, eventually regaining their original fourth quarter lead, 40-29 with 4:52 left in the game. Westfield's strong second half propelled them to victory over Union Catholic 43-29.
"I'm really happy,” said Marino. “We have a great bunch of girls, everyone gets along well, they play hard as a team. I'm really happy with this group right now, were 7-0, it's the best start in school history for girls basketball. I believe we are going to make a lot of noise this year."
The Westfield Girls Basketball team plays next at Oak Knoll High School (1-3) in Summit on Jan. 9 at 4 p.m. The Vikings play host to Elizabeth High School (0-4) in Elizabeth on Jan. 9 at 4 p.m.