The Westfield High boys’ basketball team struggled to get its footing early on in it’s first-ever Virginia State AAA playoff game last Friday night versus Henrico High of Richmond. Perhaps it was a case of opening minute jitters which played a role in a sluggish first quarter in which the Bulldogs, this year’s Northern Region champions, committed nine turnovers and scored just six points.
Whatever it was, Westfield gathered itself thereafter and played a solid three quarters of basketball. In the end, the Bulldogs, right on the verge of a victory which would have boosted them to this week’s state semifinals round at the Siegel Center in Richmond, were victimized by a late Henrico three-pointer and lost 56-52 in the riveting game played at Robinson Secondary.
“This is a landmark season for us,” said disappointed Westfield senior guard Mark Gibson following the season-ending defeat. “[What we achieved] is another goal for future Westfield teams to reach and pass.”
It was certainly Westfield’s best season in the school’s relatively brief 12-year history. The team, following an outstanding regular season, had been jolted with a close upset loss to Robinson in the Concorde District tournament finals a few weeks ago. But the Bulldogs responded by winning four straight Northern Region tournament games, including a title game victory over Edison High, for their first region crown ever. Prior to this season, the furthest Westfield had ever advanced at regionals was to the semifinals on two occasions.
Hopes were soaring following the victorious region tournament, in which senior center Zach Elcano had been named the tournament MVP, and the Bulldogs had their eyes set on continuing their winning ways at the eight-team state tournament. At the same time they were taking nothing for granted going into their opener against a Henrico team (Central Region) carrying a 27-2 record.
In the end, Henrico prevailed and, earlier this week, was set to play in the state semifinals for the first time since 1977. Meanwhile, Westfield, with the quarterfinals round loss, ended its season 24-5.
WESTFIELD LOOKED on the verge of victory Friday when, trailing 51-50 late in the game, senior forward Quentin Basil scored a spectacular, soaring tip-in basket off the left side following a mid-range jump shot miss by teammate Gibson from the right wing. Basil’s close range follow-up score gave the Bulldogs a 52-51 lead with 43 seconds remaining.
But Henrico hardly batted an eye, quickly getting the ball back up the court and getting the game’s biggest basket when junior guard Tim Jones (12 points), from around the top of the key, converted his third and final three-point shot of the night to give his team the lead again at 54-52 with 36 seconds showing.
“I thought we could get a stop and be able to win the game,” said Basil. “But they came down and got the `three.’
Westfield, with possession of the ball and trailing by one, called timeouts with 26 and 11 seconds left. But on the Bulldogs’ final play, the team could not get the ball inside to Elcano and lost possession on a turnover. Westfield quickly committed a foul but Henrico made free throws with six seconds left to clinch the win.
It was a tough ending to the season for the Bulldogs.
“We should keep our heads up,” said Basil, as Westfield players were preparing to make the trip back to their school 30 minutes or so following the game. “We went further than any team in Westfield [boys’ basketball] history. Our school has always been known for football.”
Now, that has changed with the Bulldogs, under head coach Doug Ewell, having made positive history of their own on the hardwood.
IN THE OVERALL LOW scoring game, Westfield’s Basil (11 points, 10 rebounds) was the lone Bulldog player in double figures in the loss to Henrico. Elcano, the team’s pivot player, finished with nine points, six rebounds, and four blocked shots. Gibson and junior backcourt mate Chauncey Beckett both tallied eight points, junior frontcourt player Kris Perry scored six, and senior guard Julius Rosa had five. Junior forward Chris Mullins came off the bench to convert a game-tying three-pointer from the left corner to make the score 22-all in the latter stages of the second quarter.
Senior guard Jay Allen led Henrico with a game-high 19 points.
“I felt we made them play our game,” said Elcano, of Westfield wanting to slow the pace a bit against a Henrico team capable of lighting up the scoreboard. “Usually they score in the 70s or 80s.”
Westfield got off to a tough start with five turnovers over the game’s first three minutes and trailed 12-6 after one quarter.
The second quarter started well for Westfield with Elcano scoring on a driving basket before, moments later, blocking a shot at the defensive end which led to a transition three-pointer by Rosa from the left corner to get the Bulldogs within 12-11. Later in the quarter, Rosa gave his team its first lead of the night at 19-18 on two free throws with 3 minutes, 37 seconds left in the half.
Henrico scored nine of the final 14 points of the quarter to go into the halftime with a 27-24 lead.
Early in the second half, with Westfield trailing 29-26, Gibson, off an assist from Elcano, scored on a catch-and-shoot, close range chance off the right side. Later in the quarter, Westfield’s Perry, off an assist from Rosa, broke Henrico’s full court press with a driving fast break layup off the right side to tie the game at 30.
Another big play for Westfield came about 90 seconds later when Elcano scored from close range while being fouled. His ensuing foul shot gave the Bulldogs a 35-34 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter. Moments later, Gibson, on a driving basket from the left, upped the Bulldogs’ lead to 37-34.
Westfield led 39-36 following free throws by Beckett with 1:13 showing but Henrico scored the final five points of the quarter and led 41-39.
Beckett nearly closed the third quarter in spectacular fashion when his launching, three-quarters length shot at the third quarter buzzer barely missed.
Henrico built a 43-39 lead early in the final quarter before Basil scored the game’s next five points, three on free throws, as Westfield regained the lead at 44-43 with 6:35 left to play. Henrico scored eight of the following 10 points, however, and held a 51-46 lead with 4:46 remaining.
Westfield baskets by Beckett, the Bulldogs’ exciting 5-foot-10 inch ball handler who scored on several driving baskets through the lane, and junior guard C.J. Hill, who nailed a 15-foot jumper off the right side, got the Bulldogs within 51-50.
Neither team scored again for nearly three minutes before Basil’s athletic tip-in put-back basket put the Bulldogs ahead in the final minute.
But Henrico got the key three-pointer followed by two free throws to come out with the win.
“We had open shots but our shots didn’t always fall,” said Basil, of the game overall. “Their quickness hurt us a lot. We’d get a bucket and they’d come right down and score.”
“I thought it was a great season and I’ll never forget it,” said Elcano. “Right now this loss burns. But we made history this season.”