By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Defense isn’t what first comes to the minds of most fans when they think about Westside’s girls basketball team.
They think about sophomore center Hope Lester’s outstanding play in the paint. Or maybe the way the Lady Renegades get up and down the floor. Or even Danielle Brown’s 3-pointers.
Fairmont Senior just might disagree.
No. 1 Westside (25-1) shut the fifth-seeded Polar Bears’ transition game down cold Friday night in a 51-41 Class AA semifinal victory at the Charleston Civic Center.
The win gives the Lady Renegades the chance to repeat as state champions. They’ll play Bridgeport, last year’s Class AAA runner-up, at 2:30 p.m. today for title.
Bridgeport defeated Nicholas County 57-48 in the other semifinal behind a 40-point performance by guard Miki Glenn.
“Glenn is a D-I prospect for a reason,” Westside coach Jamie Lusk said. “She’s a great player and a great challenge for us. But we had a great challenge last year in Scott and (2012 player of the year) Makenzie White. It will be fun.”
To get there, the Lady Renegades had to stop a 19-7 Fairmont Senior team that practically ran Clay County off the floor Thursday.
Westside controlled the boards, 46-36, and had more steals, 13-12. The Polar Bears did not score a single basket off the break.
Not a one. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
“Every coach I’ve talked to says Fairmont likes to score in transition,” Lusk said. “For us to hold them to zero points, our game plan worked.”
It took more than a good game plan, however. The Polar Bears made Westside work as hard as any team has all season.
Especially since the Lady Renegades’ main cog, Lester, spent a good deal of time on the bench in foul trouble.
Lester was assessed her second foul with 2:54 left before halftime. Fairmont cut five points off the lead to go into the locker room trailing 24-19.
Westside then went on an 8-0 run to close the third quarter and lead 34-22.
Danielle Brown and Morgan Spolarich, who were a combined 1 for 11 from the floor in the first half, scored four points apiece in the run.
Fairmont coach Corey Hines was not happy with how his team was shooting, rather than running.
“Much of it was what we didn’t do. We didn’t move. We took too many jump shots, and if you miss, you suffer,” he said. “We like to run and we didn’t get out and run.”
Still, the game was far from settled. Lester picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench with 6:09 remaining in the contest and Westside up 35-22.
It could have been a turning point. Instead, the Lady Renegades got gritty. Brown drove in for a layup; backup guard Hope Davis found reserve forward Kristen Hash under the basket for an easy two.
“Every game, different people step up,” Lusk said. “Hope came in and gave us 10 big points off the bench. I’m very proud of that.”
Junior forward Megan Endicott hit a follow-up shot to make it 41-32 with 3:27 to play.
Gabby Tenny got two of the points back with a jump shot for Fairmont. Then Westside began parading to the foul line.
Spolarich went 4 of 4 at the charity stripe, Lester hit two more and Brown and Faith Davis made 1 of 2 shots apiece to end any thoughts of a final Polar Bear rally.
“Westside did what they needed to do,” Hines said. “They got the ball inside and made their free throws. We tip our hats to them. They were better than us tonight.”
Standout Emily Stoller and Jenny Bundy hit 3s in the final 49 seconds for Fairmont to narrow the final gap.
Whaley scored 11 points and Tenney finished with 10. Stoller had nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Polar Bears took 17 3-point shots and made five.
“We took only two or three last game and we won by 30. Today, we lost by 10 by taking 17,” Hines said. “That’s not part of our coaching plan. That’s not us all year.”
Lester led Westside with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Brown scored 10 points and had four asists, whie Spolarich had eight points, four steals and four assists. Endicott grabbed 12 boards to go with seven points.
Davis, as she had done against PikeView, got Westside off to a quick start with two baskets and several steals and rebounds. She finished with seven points, 12 rebounds and four steals.
“Faith is the ‘quiet assassin,’” Lusk said. “She’s our best penetrator, and does a great job on the boards.”
Lester expects the much-smaller Bridgeport team to focus on her as they did Nicholas’ Shealyn Shafer, who still scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds.
“I plan to play my game like I usually do, and not let it bother me,” Lester said. “I’ll just play through it and do my best.
“We’re ready. Our nerves are gone. We came out (today) fired up and ready to go.”
— E-mail: dstillwell
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