After shaking off some early-season rust, the defending state champion Westminster Christian Academy girls basketball team took care of business in its season opener.
The Lady Lions hosted Nathanael Greene Academy last Tuesday, Nov. 10, to open the 2020-21 season. They defended their home court and won 67-24.
The first half was close – Westminster had just a 10-point lead at intermission – but Lady Lions head coach Chandler Deep said that was due to two things: His team was getting back to game speed, and it was doing so without longtime leader Sallie Schutz.
“For the first time in six years, we walked on the floor without our star player,” Deep said. “We were a little apprehensive to start with. We did struggle a little bit but we played everybody in the first half so we're trying to figure out who we are right now. Our identity in the years past has been on defense and we came out in the second half and limited them to 5 points.”
Westminster opened the game on an 11-0 run before NGA sank a free throw to score its first point with 4:53 left in the first quarter. The Lady Patriots used more free throws to scores 5 points and trail 15-5 after the first period. They were held without a field goal by the Lady Lions defense.
NGA opened the second quarter on a strong run to make it a 15-10 game. Westminster’s Avery Clark ended her team’s drought at 6:20 in the second quarter to improve the lead to 17-10.
The Lady Lions could not pull away, though, as NGA pulled back to a 5-point deficit to make it 20-15.
Westminster held a 24-17 lead before Clark drained a 3-pointer to improve the advantage to 27-17 at the half.
The COVID-19 pandemic cost Westminster chances to play preseason scrimmages. The fact the Lady Lions had not competed since their state title win led to the overall sluggish performance in the first half.
“I think it just took us a while to warm up and getting comfortable playing,” Clark said. “We haven't really played a game since February, so I think just getting in the groove was a main part of our first-half struggles.”
Clark finished the game with 10 points. All of those came in the first half.
In the second half, though, it was Lanie Bauer who paced Westminster. Bauer dropped 9 of her team-high 15 points after the break.
She and the Lady Lions ran out to a 38-17 lead halfway through the third quarter. NGA did not score again until hitting a free throw at the 1:58 mark of the third to bring the score to 40-18.
The third-quarter outburst allowed Westminster to cruise to victory the rest of the way.
“I think we really just got excited and we knew we could play harder and play better,” Bauer said. “We wanted to just really come out there and show everyone what we had as a team.”
Addi Kay Carter scored 9 points for the Lady Lions. Lauren Costello finished with 8 points, Abby Clark and Amelia Beaver had 6 apiece and Kara Grace Meyers had 5. Elise Piotrowski scored 4 points, followed by Mackenzie Evans with 2 and Lissie Breedlove and Skylar Kirkpatrick with 1 point each.
Westminster finished the game with 22 total fouls. Those fouls led to free throws for NGA, either directly via shooting fouls or indirectly once NGA got into the bonus, which happened in the second and third quarters.
“A lot of that is a lot of the new points of emphasis that officials are getting and we just made some silly fouls,” Deep said. “We were out of position because we didn't work hard enough on the front end, so we paid the consequence on the back end. With three officials in a sloppy girls game, you're gonna get a lot of fouls.”
The game versus NGA was just the first of many.
Provided that COVID-19 concerns do not cause disruptions, the Lady Lions have a full slate ahead of them. They hope to successfully defend their status as champion.
Bauer said in order to do that, they must continue fostering strong bonds among themselves.
“We have so much potential as a team,” Bauer said. “I think that coach just wants us to grow in our relationships with each other, grow in our relationships with God, and really just play basketball to the absolute best of our ability. And if that means state championship or not, he just wants us to glorify God and love each other.”
But the state championship remains the Lady Lions’ ultimate pursuit.
When asked what goals he set forth for his team, Deep looked at the ‘State Champion’ banner hanging up inside Westminster’s gym.
“As long as I'm here at this school, [the goal is] to hang a banner, to put '2021' under 'State Champions' over there,” Deep said. “I told these girls, 'You have to savor and enjoy every minute because the way this year goes, you never know when your last play might occur out there.' That's our goal: Every game, just give it all we've got.”