With a chance at its second straight Upper State championship on the line, the Westwood girls basketball team wasn’t about to let that opportunity slip away on its home floor.
The Redhawks blew open a close game with a big run late in the third and early in the fourth to defeat Lower Richland, 63-47, on Monday in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We talked about it all weekend,” Westwood coach Gregory Bauldrick said of homecourt advantage. “Sometimes in life you don’t get a second opportunity or second chance. We understood we had to control the controllables and earn our way to play for an Upper State championship.
“I think we realized we had only eight minutes left to figure this thing out. We settled down a bit, played better defensively and did a better job on the boards and converted on some transition buckets.”
Westwood will play Region 3-4A foe South Pointe for the Upper State championship Friday in Greenville. It will be third time the Redhawks play South Pointe this season. The two teams split in the regular season.
It’s Westwood’s second straight Upper State appearance. The Redhawks were blown out by eventual state champion North Augusta in the school’s first Upper State appearance last year.
“Last year’s experience, going in to that big arena, we weren’t prepared for it,” Westwood senior Unique Drake said. “We will be more prepared mentally.”
After blowing through their first two playoff games by an average margin victory of 63.5 points, it was evident early on that it wouldn’t be as easy. Lower Richland held its own inside with a much taller Westwood team and its 2-3 zone defense in the first half gave Westwood some problems.
Down 26-20 at halftime, the Diamond Hornets started the second half on a 6-1 run and Anala Nelson’s jumped cut Westwood’s lead to 27-26. But the Redhawks answered with a 7-0 run capped off by Drake’s basket to make the lead 34-26 with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Drake, a St. John’s signee who finished with a game-high 21 points, was held in check by LR’s box-and-one defense in the second half. She had just one field goal in the second half. But teammates Essence Marshall and Malayziah Etheredge picked up the scoring load in the fourth quarter.
Marshall had eight of her 11 points in the fourth quarter. and her 3-pointer put Westwood up 47-37 with 4:22 left. Etheredge had seven of her nine points in the final quarter as Westwood outscored LR 25-15 in the final eight minutes.
“They started to go in that box-and-one which actually was a good thing for us,” Bauldrick said. “It let Essence stretch the floor on the weak side and just took advantage of what that defense gave us.”
“When they go box-and-one on Unique, it leaves everyone open and leaves me to shoot my shot,” Marshall said. “And it took the pressure off Unique and let us keep the lead in the game.”
Maliyah Lockett added 10 points for Westwood and went over the 1,000-point mark in her career.
Nelson led the Diamond Hornets with 16 points. Laniya Smith added 12, and Zhayla Adams had 10. The Diamond Hornets finish the season 19-7.
LR: A. Nelson 16, L. Smith 12, Z. Adams 10, Canty 4, Jones 3, Brooks 2. W: Unique Drake 21, Essence Marshall 11, Maliyah Lockett 10, Etheredge 9, Leveretter 8, Frederick 2, Wade 2