WESTFIELD, NJ — The third-seeded Westfield Lady Blue Devils varsity basketball team survived an upset bid in the Union County Tournament quarterfinal round from 14th-seeded Jonathan Dayton (Springfield) Bulldogs, pulling out a 40-32 win Tuesday.
The momentum ultimately swung Westfield’s way after senior Danielle Rinaldi hit a three to put Westfield up 30-28 with less than five minutes left in the game. Senior Shannon Devitt hit a jumper to put the team up 32-30 on the team’s next possession. After getting defensive stops, Rinaldi and junior Grace Elliott both hit four free throws from intentional fouls to lock the game up.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Blue Devil head coach Liz McKeon said. “It was a full team performance. Shannon carried us offensively, Jenna [Iorio] did a great job on defense, Molly [Ryan] left her heart out on the court and Danielle and Grace hit clutch free throws down the stretch that really sealed the game for us.”
Westfield jumped out to a quick 9-0 start, but a 13-2 run by the Bulldogs put Dayton up at the end of the first quarter and the game remained close from then on out as the teams got locked into a defensive battle.
“I was very pleased with the performance,” Dayton head coach Dave Rennie said. “The effort was great. They felt confident coming in and it showed. We got off to a slow start, which hurt us, but we battled back right a way, so I was really encouraged by the way they persevered through the tough start and we ended up with a lead at the end of the first quarter and battled them the whole way.”
Rennie was impressed with Westfield’s performance down the stretch.
“I thought we took them out of what they wanted to do offensively, but you have to give them credit, they kept battling,” he said. “For a team to be a three seed and find themselves in a game against a 14 seed, they really did what they had to do down the stretch. It can be a tense situation down the stretch for the better seed to try to work their way through a tough game like that, but they kept their composure and obviously made big free throws down at the end there. But I’m really happy with our effort and with a couple of breaks it could have been different.”
Rinaldi and Devitt lead Westfield with 15 points apiece followed by juniors Elliott and Molly Ryan who each had four. Junior Amanda Lau led Dayton with nine.
“I think today we came out a little flat,” Rinaldi said. “In the first round of counties, you always think it’s going to be, based on seeding, a little bit of an easier game, but Dayton really showed up today and gave us a tough one, so we pulled it together after the first half and really pulled it out in the last quarter with our foul shots. I think we learned that every game is up for grabs. We can’t take any matchup for granted.”
Some of the Lady Blue Devils also saw this game as a bit of a wakeup call.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it would be that close of a game, which I shouldn’t have probably had a mindset like that,” Ryan said. “But I think, especially at the end, our defense pulled through, but they have some really good players. Going forward we have to take every game seriously and have the same mindset for every team.”
McKeon agreed, but was happy the team was able to overcome their struggles.
“I told the girls today, ‘seeds mean nothing.’ We played against a very good Dayton team today. They came out and they were hot — they went down early and they pushed back. I told the girls this is probably one of the tougher games to win … to be down like they were and to comeback and overcome that and come out with the win just shows how strong and united they are.”
The team remains confident going forward in the tournament.
“It was a tight game but I think the main thing that helped us pull out the win was we shot 100 percent from the free throw line,” Devitt said. “I think we can take the competitive nature of this game — it was a super close game all the way to the end — we could carry that into the next game so we’re ready for that high competition, high pressure game. I definitely think we’re going to stay composed like we did in this game and we’re just going to rally around each other and keep trying to pull out wins.”
Westfield will next take on 11th-seeded Kent Place School (Summit) on Friday at home at a time to be announced.
Eric Storms is a student at Westfield High School participting in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.