OKEMOS – Last season’s downfalls stuck with Skylar Westfall and the Okemos girls basketball team over the summer.
The Chiefs, who ushered in a handful of underclassmen a season ago, were just 7-14 and often found themselves on the wrong end of tightly contested ball games in 2015.
A year ago, if someone would have asked Westfall – one of just two upperclassmen who start for Okemos this season – if her ball club would have been able to handle the nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit it was faced with Friday night against Haslett, she wouldn’t have expected much of a fight.
“We probably wouldn’t have played as well as we did,” the senior said. “We would have got down on ourselves.”
Youthful Okemos has licked last season’s wounds and through two games this season has found ways to maneuver through desperate times.
Led by a team-high 12 points from Westfall, the Chiefs battled back to top the Vikings, 35-34, on their home floor.
“They’re really buying into the fact that it’s a team effort,” first-year Okemos coach Kristen Rasmussen said. “There’s ups and downs, you have to stick together.”
The Chiefs (2-0) got out to a good start in the contest and took a 13-11 lead into the second quarter after Westfall nailed a 3-pointer as the opening quarter expired. Haslett wasn’t fazed by Okemos’ early lead and senior Sydnee Dennis scored seven of her 12 points in the second quarter to hand her team a 23-19 lead going into halftime.
The Vikings (1-1) were able to build on that lead by holding the Chiefs to just two third-quarter field goals and brought a seven-point lead into the final quarter.
Okemos standout sophomore Laya Hartman, who has a handful of offers from Big Ten schools, was held to just two points and zero field goals through the first three quarter. But it was another underclassmen, freshman forward Jasmine Clerkley, who has offers from Central Michigan and Western Michigan, who ignited the fourth-quarter rally by scoring six of her eight points in the last eight minutes.
“We played too quick the entire game,” Haslett coach Ross Baker said. “I thought we had settled down. I didn’t do a good job of making sure I used all of our timeouts to make sure that we settled down.”
Clerkley’s game-winning bucket with less than 30 seconds remaining handed the Chiefs their first lead since the midway point of the second quarter.
“It was big for me,” Clerkley said of her late-game performance. “Our coach pushes at practice. She wants us to win, she wants us to think that we can win. Her pushing us makes us want to go even harder in these tough games, even though we’re so young.”
Hartman finished with six points, four of which came in the fourth quarter.
Haslett sophomore guard Ella McKinney added seven points and freshman forward Imania Baker scored nine points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.