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Westfield’s Breakthrough Season Will Long be Remembered

Following tough loss in Concorde finals, Bulldog boys road region tournament wave to first-ever title.

— Over an eight-day period in late February, the Westfield High boys’ basketball team put together a remarkable stretch of play which resulted in the program’s first-ever Northern Region title and provided a lifetime of highlight moments for Bulldog players, coaches and fans.

Westfield’s remarkable 2011-12 winter season came to an end on March 2 when the Bulldogs, competing at the Virginia State AAA playoffs for the first time ever, lost to Henrico High of Richmond, 56-52, in a state quarterfinals round game played at Robinson Secondary. For the season, the Bulldogs, under veteran head coach Doug Ewell, finished 24-5, the best record in the 12-year history of the program.

Westfield, over the course of the regular season, including its stellar play in the Concorde District, proved to be one of the region’s better teams. But, without the breakthrough postseason that followed, the Bulldogs would have become a region afterthought to all but its own fandom. By stepping up and playing some of its best basketball at the 16-team region tournament - one of the annual highlight events of the local high school athletic calendar - the Bulldogs put their official seal of triumph on the season and joined those elite teams from the past who have earned region boys’ basketball championships.

But nothing came easy and Westfield’s postseason nearly ended in early disappointed. The Bulldogs had won their final 11 games of the regular season and were the top-seed at the Concorde District Tournament. Following a first round bye, the Bulldogs, behind 21 points from senior forward Quentin Basil, defeated defending district champion Herndon, 63-52, in a semifinals game to reach the finals against Robinson.

But against the Rams with the district title on the line, Westfield came up just short in a disheartening 62-60 upset loss to a tough, hard-fighting Robinson team the Bulldogs had beaten in both regular season meetings.

WHILE THE LOSS to Robinson was a downer, Westfield’s season was far from over with the region playoffs set to begin the following week. It would prove to be a tournament of redemption for Westfield. In the past, Westfield had twice gone as far as the region semifinals but, in 2011, had been eliminated in the first round.

And Westfield nearly fell in a first round region playoff game this year when it went up against a super talented Wakefield High squad from the National District on March 2. But in a close, nail-biter contest from start to finish, the Bulldogs, playing on their home floor, displayed great fortitude in a 57-55 triumph. In a game which was tied on nine different occasions, C.J. Hill’s close range basket off the right side with just under three seconds remaining - off an inbounds baseline pass from teammate Mark Gibson - broke a 55-55 tie and proved to be the game-winner.

“They made a good play to make that last basket,” said Wakefield coach Tony Bentley. “It was a really good game throughout.”

Westfield had big games from senior point guard Julius Rosa (16 points), senior center Zach Elcano (13 points, 7 rebounds), and Basil (13 points, 7 rebounds), who had two memorable breakaway dunks following steals.

The bounce-back win helped put behind the previous week’s district finals loss to Robinson and gave the Bulldogs momentum going into their quarterfinals round game verses T.C. Williams, one of the region’s most heralded and historically successful programs. The game, played on Feb. 22 at T.C.’s home Garden, was defensive-dominated with Westfield coming though with a 43-38 triumph in a game the Titans had led 20-14 at the half. Westfield’s Hill, who had scored the game-winner versus Wakefield, led the Bulldogs with 14 points.

NEXT UP FOR WESTFIELD was a Feb. 25 region semifinals meeting versus McLean, the Liberty District champions. The Bulldogs, who had won their prior two region playoff games by seven points combined, enjoyed some breathing room in a 55-41 victory over the Highlanders, in the Final Four contest played at Robinson. But it was, in fact, a close game through three quarters before the Bulldogs, leading 42-39 going into the final quarter, outscored the Highlanders 13-2 in the fourth quarter to earn a spot in the finals and gain an automatic seeding for the state playoffs, both achievements being landmark steps for the program.

In the championship game on Feb. 27, also at Robinson, Westfield received a balanced attack behind Elcano (17 points), Basil (16 points, 7 rebounds), and Gibson (10 points). At game’s end, Elcano was named tournament MVP. He was joined by both Basil and Gibson on the seven-member All-Region Tournament team.

The game was close before Westfield broke it open with an 18-4 scoring run over the final six-plus minutes of the third quarter. Basil hit consecutive three-pointers during the key stretch, both treys coming from deep in the left corner.

“We’ve been working for this for like three years,” said a smiling Elcano, in the minutes following the game. “We just played as a team all 32 minutes and poured our hearts out.”

The title game win over Edison (National District) was the glowing achievement of a season in which Westfield stepped up and accomplished more than it ever had before.