TAYLORSVILLE — In order to get to where it's never been, the Westlake girls basketball team drew upon experiences its endured several times before, in securing a 54-47 win over Hillcrest in the 6A state quarterfinal round on Thursday.
Every step the Thunder takes this postseason makes program history, as the team entered tournament play without a single playoff win. They pulled out Thursday's win by taking a punch to the mouth in the second quarter, enduring, and then staging a comeback effort in the third quarter and extending until the final buzzer.
“They believed in themselves. We’ve been behind before, and we know what that feels like, so there’s no panic,” O’Connor said of his players' effort. “We hit free throws there down the stretch and hit some big shots.”
Hitting a lot of those big shots for the Thunder was Marissa Scoresby, who finished with a game-high 23 points. A lot of her points came in the second half, with six straight made free throws in the game's final two minutes playing a huge role in securing the win.
“I just kept telling myself that I could do it,” Scoresby said. “I just needed confidence, and I knocked them down.”
A 3-pointer made by Samantha Hester put Westlake up 50-45 late in the fourth quarter, and worked to force the Huskies into a scramble situation, and eventually a fouling situation. Hester finished with 20 points, and a 4-7 effort from 3-point range.
As good as the Thunder's effort was on the offensive end, it was the defensive effort which played the biggest role. Down 26-21 at the half, O'Connor's team worked to match Hillcrest's physical play while adjusting to what was being run — particularly inside the paint.
“Our defense got better, and it adjusted to (Hillcrest’s strength),” O’Connor said. “I have to credit my two (frontcourt) players — Tatum (Peterson) and Rian (Fullmer) were just battling and battling.”
A 10-0 to end the third quarter — punctuated by two made 3-pointers by Scoresby — put the Thunder up 37-34. The teams battled back-and-forth throughout the fourth quarter, although Westlake never surrendered the lead until the final buzzer sounded.
After the buzzer the Westlake players celebrated at midcourt as if they'd just won a championship, and emotion that can be forgiven considering the team's unspectacular history.
“Everything we do for the girls program is one more piece of history. The school is excited, and we’re just going to keep going, play as hard as we can, and whatever happens, happens,” O’Connor said.
With the win Westlake advances to the semifinal round where it will meet up with the winner of Fremont vs Riverton on Friday.