The Centreville Wildcats (6-3) girls varsity basketball team traveled to the home of their longtime rivals, the Westfield Bulldogs (4-4), on Tuesday night, where a close game between the two teams ended in a 47-41 victory for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats and Bulldogs traded scores in the first quarter, with Centreville closing it out in a slim 11-10 lead. An early injury took Wildcats junior starting guard Kaleah Wells out of play, forcing Centreville to adjust its strategy until Wells could return after halftime. 

Heading into the game, Westfield had to make a similar change due to an injury that sidelined senior forward Brooke Reed. Players like sophomore Emma O’Connor stepped up as a result; she led the scoring for Westfield with 19 points in the match. 

O’Connor had to balance the responsibility of being a leader for her team as a younger player, though she emphasized the strength of her teammates. “If people need to lean on me, I think I have a strong enough support system around me to help,” she said. 

Action slowed in the second quarter for the Bulldogs relative to the Wildcats, who were able to conclude the first half leading the Westfield 20-16.

Throughout the game, Centreville was quick to kick it to the outside for several three-pointers, making six with two in the first and fourth quarters. The lion’s share of attempts came from junior guard Ryleigh Thurston, Centreville’s leading scorer with 13 points. 

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, sank just one three-point shot in the third quarter, which was scored by O’Connor. 

“We were looking to take it out instead of pounding it in,” Thurston said. “For every opportunity we got to drive and kick, it was wide open every time, and that’s where we got a lot of those kick-out shots.”

Moving to the outside was also part of a strategy Centreville crafted in response to freshman guard Kennedy Parrott being out with an injury. “We score more points in the paint typically because of Kennedy,” said Wildcats Head Coach Jo McLane. “They ran a 2-3 half-court press at us, and we wanted to get someone high.”

Momentum picked up for the Bulldogs in the third quarter due to an impressive showing by O’Connor, who scored 9 out of 12 points to help Westfield temporarily retake the lead. 

“The intensity was really the adjustment,” Westfield Head Coach Noel Klippenstein said when asked how the team adapted after halftime. “On defense when we do a good job and bring intensity, we can pick up turnovers and get some steals, which gives us fast break opportunities for some shots.”

Undeterred, the Wildcats regained their balance by the end of the quarter to put up 8 points and knot the score at 28. 

Stretching from the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, the Wildcats successfully drove the ball to the basket, one of several shifts the Wildcats discussed at halftime. “We talked about opportunities that were on the baseline,” McLane said. “Things opened up because we were more patient.”

Three-point shots by Thurston and sophomore guard Hannah Wakefield then carried the Wildcats into the lead in the fourth quarter, which they maintained to the end. It was a strong finish for Thurston, who scored the final 8 points for Centreville. 

“I’m super proud of my teammates that were able to step up coming off the bench,” Thurston said. “We came in hunting,” she added. “Even though we went down, we kept that next play mentality that we were able to get the lead back in the end.”

O’Connor stated a strong third-quarter performance helped boost the Bulldogs’ confidence, which waned as Centreville took over in the fourth. 

“We were tired,” O’Connor said. “Once we fell behind, specifically on three-pointers, it brought our confidence down.”

Klippenstein similarly remarked that Centreville’s hard work was evident in the fourth. 

“One of the things that turned it around for Centreville is they never gave up,” she said. “Their hustle really came through in the fourth quarter whereas ours came through in the third.”

Centreville’s victory over Westfield was a “big win,” McLane said. “It’s our first conference game, first district game in a super competitive conference. To compete away is big for us.”

The Wildcats are “on an upward trajectory,” she added, stating that Centreville approaches every game with a clean slate. “Every single game, it’s 0-0. It’s almost like playoffs,” McLane said. “That’s the mentality we need to have to be locked in.”

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