On the road in front of a frenzied crowd at Friendly High School, the Westlake High girls basketball team proved its mettle in Friday’s 3A South Region championship game.
With players in foul trouble and the season on the line, the Wolverines would not be denied, exploding for 38 points in the second half to advance to the state tournament with a 58-49 victory in Fort Washington.
The Wolverines (18-7) were led by senior forward T.J. Malone and senior guard Kim Brown, who combined for 42 points.
Brown left the game with a right knee injury with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and it appeared Friendly had seized all of the momentum. A 14-0 run gave the Patriots a 49-48 lead with 1:31 remaining in the game.
But Malone knew her team wasn’t done.
“We just kept playing through everything with the tough calls and the bad fouls we were committing,” said Malone, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “We just kept playing because we wanted to win. I knew my team had this in them from the beginning of the season and the coaches told us too. We just had to get it together and come together as a team and in the end, we came out with the win.”
Malone scored eight points after Brown (19 points) suffered her injury, and fellow senior Alyssa Fort scored her only four points of the game as the Wolverines outlasted the Patriots, who did not score again after they completed their 14-0 run.
First-year Westlake coach Ardell Jackson was impressed with his team’s fortitude.
“We have a good team with good solid players,” Jackson said. “They’re relentless. They don’t ever stop fighting and they don’t ever give up. Even the girls who didn’t get in the game ... what they do in practice to help us every day, these girls are just unbelievable.”
After the final buzzer, the team gathered around Brown to show its support. Jackson said he expects Brown to be available for the state semifinals. She walked off of the court under her own power.
Brown said the way her team responded in her absence indicates many virtues.
“Everybody came out hard and even when the tough times began, we still came out hard,” she said. “The way they came out shows that we can go a long way. I’m glad I have these types of teammates around me.”
For Friendly (19-5), a return to the 3A South Region final after reaching the same round of the playoffs in 2011, ended with the same bitter result.
Patriots coach Caroll Holmes completed a second successful season with the team. Friendly is 38-14 in his two seasons.
“I thought it was a great game and they made a few more plays than we did,” Holmes said. “These young ladies showed last year that they had a lot of character and passion for the game and that’s why we were able to have the season we had this year. They want to succeed and they worked extremely hard. What we’re trying to do is build a program and have it sustained.”
Patriots forward Nakita Gray scored a team-high 14 points while forward Chelisha Overby had nine points and Breanna Brown added six. Senior guard Precious Winley reflected on the last two years for the Patriots, which produced more success than the team had experienced in more than a decade.
“We had a great season and one of the best we had in a long time,” Winley said. “I didn’t expect for us to come out and have a great season like we did. We wanted to go further than last year, but we used the potential and talent we had on this team coming back to play this year.”
Westlake 58, Friendly 49
Westlake 16 4 17 21 — 58
Friendly 11 11 6 21 — 49
Westlake (18-7): T.J. Malone 23; Kim Brown 21; Breanna Gleaton 4; Alyssa Fort 4; Deana Florence 2’ Damira Banks 2
Friendly (19-5): Nakita Gray 14; Chelisha Overby 9; Breanna Brown 6; Precious Winley 4; Chayla Lewis 11; Janae Gillwoods 2; Damacia Armstrong 1