HENDERSONVILLE The Westmoreland High School girls basketball team used defensive pressure and patient passing that led to open shots, building a 20-point lead by halftime over Pope John Paul II High on its way to Saturday evening’s 53-41 victory in the championship game of the 12th annual Post Brand Cereal Tournament at Hendersonville Christian Academy.
The Lady Eagles took an 11-2 lead after the first quarter and stretched that to 29-9 at the half.
“I thought we got a lot of good looks from the inside out,” Westmoreland head coach Cherie Abner said. “They were packing it in on defense.
“When we hit our threes (3-pointers), we were able to get into our (full-court) press.”
The pressure forced the Lady Knights into turnovers, which Westmoreland was able to convert into points.
“We made a couple of good runs,” Abner said.
In the first half, Westmoreland had runs of 7-0, 8-0 and 10-0 in building its lead.
Earlier in the tournament, Westmoreland (6-1) was getting the most production out of its post players, juniors Kaitlyn Norman – who was named the tournament’s most valuable player – and Karley Smith.
“Tonight, it was our guards,” Abner said.
PJP II (3-5) played a 2-3 zone that was packed tight to limit Westmoreland’s inside game.
“They forced us to shoot from the outside, and we were able to hit,” Abner said.
The Lady Eagles made five 3-pointers, all but one of which came in the first half. Senior Haley Braswell made four of those, accounting for all of her team-leading 12 points.
She credited the team’s point guards, juniors Lexie McCormick and Gracie Oliver, with helping to boost her offensive production.
“They got me open shots,” Braswell said.
The championship game was a bit of a break-out game for Braswell.
“I hadn’t really been hitting,” Braswell said. “I had to make an adjustment.”
The Lady Eagles built a 45-17 lead after three quarters, which gave Abner a chance to give her reserves some experience.
In the fourth quarter, as Westmoreland was trying to milk the clock, PJP II rallied behind senior forward Windee Johnson to cut the lead to 51-41 with less than a minute remaining.
“We just dug ourselves too big of a hole early,” Lady Knight head coach Angi Puckett said. “We weren’t keeping our composure. Our spacing was bad. We made too many turnovers.
“We decided to play as intensely as we could, be more aggressive (in the second half).”
Johnson led all scorers with 23 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
Norman backed Braswell’s production with 11 points.
Braswell, Smith and senior teammate Jesica Eppstein joined Norman on the all-tournament team, along with Johnson, PJP II senior guard Mercedes Smith and Lady Knight senior forward Sophie Kolbe.
Abner said that winning the tournament championship was a good lead-in to the start of District 9-AA play on Tuesday, when Westmoreland hosts Cheatham County.
“This has really prepared us,” Abner said.
Braswell added, “It means a lot coming off a championship.”
Westmoreland improved to 6-1. The Lady Eagles had wins over Kenwood and Smyrna to reach the title game.
The Lady Knights picked up two wins in the tournament, over Stratford and Berean Academy, and their record now stands at 3-5.
Puckett hopes that the tournament wins will be a boost of confidence for her squad.
“If we play the right way, good things will happen,” Puckett said.
PJP II next plays on Tuesday at Goodpasture and at White House Christian on Thursday before hosting Franklin Road Academy on Friday.
WESTMORELAND (53) – Haley Braswell 12, Kaitlyn Norman 11, Jesica Eppstein 6, Gracie Oliver 6, Peightyn Gross 6, Darby Bowser 4, Karley Smith 3, Kailan Woodard 3, Lexie McCormick 2.
PJP II (41) – Windee Johnson 23, Mercedes Smith 8, Sophie Kolbe 6, Lindsey Semrow 3, Emily Galluzzi 1.
Half: 29-9, Westmoreland. Three-point goals: Westmoreland 5 (Braswell 4, Woodard 1), PJP II 1 (Semrow). Records: Westmoreland 6-1, PJP II 3-5.