Akron-Westfield girls basketball defeats Gehlen for first win
LE MARS — Akron-Westfield picked up a War Eagle Conference road win over Gehlen Catholic on Tuesday, edging out the host school by a 45-40 score.
“A hard-fought win,” Akron-Westfield Head Coach Kent Johnson said. “Lucky we came ahead at the end. I’m proud of the girls. We’re young, we’re inexperienced and we’re learning. That’s all part of the game is to learn and keep growing.”
The first half was a tale of two quarters. In the first, Akron-Westfield jumped out to a 14-2 lead. In the second, Gehlen outscored the Westerners 13-2.
“It was a game of runs by them and a game of runs by us,” Johnson said.
Rysaiah Sitzmann scored the first bucket of the game to give Gehlen the 2-0 lead six seconds into the contest, but the Jays were held scoreless for the remaining 7:54 of the quarter.
The tide turned in the second quarter as Miyah Whitehead got a putback to end the drought at the 7:09 mark of the second quarter. That was all of Whitehead’s scoring contribution in the game. The senior got two quick fouls in the first quarter which put her on the bench for most of the rest of the frame. When she did return in the second quarter, it wasn’t for long as she got injured shortly after making her one basket of the game. She came out of the locker room after halftime with a bag of ice on her shoulder and did not take the court for the rest of the night.
“With Miyah being out most of that game, foul trouble early on and then going down with an injury and not being able to play part of that second quarter and the entire second half, that really hurt too because that really slows down our inside-outside game which we didn’t have nearly as well tonight,” Gehlen Head Coach Brandon Schaecher said.
The Jays certainly missed the nearly 16 points per game Whitehead averaged through her first five games, but did their best without her on the court. The team followed Whitehead’s basket with buckets for Jayden Barthole and Sophie Ruden surrounding a 3-pointer from Rysaiah Sitzmann. Barthole added another basket, part of her nine points, and Nevaeh Hodgson hit a shot to give the Jays the lead at 15-14, part of her eight points in the game.
“I thought defensively we picked it up quite a bit and they fed off of that a little bit offensively,” Schaecher said of the team’s second quarter surge. “We got some steals. We went from not pressing them to pressing them and I think that forced them to get a little chaotic and it worked fairly well. They made some nice adjustments at half to offset that in the second half, but I thought the girls did a really good job of pressing in the second quarter to get us back into it. We were out of that game the entire first quarter. The girls stayed tough and were able to fight back that second quarter and that gave us at least a shot in the second half.”
The Westerners were able to score their only basket of the second quarter near the 1:40 mark as Boe Harris scored to put A-W back in front entering halftime.
After the Jays took a brief lead with the first points of the second half, the Westerners turned to senior Alyssa Nemesio to rally for a 10-0 run to take control. Nemesio didn’t score any in the first half, but ended tied for the team lead with 14 points by the end of the night.
“I thought especially my senior, Alyssa Nemesio, she played the game of her life,” Johnson said.
Nemesio had a 3-pointer to give the Westerners the 19-17 lead which the team never relinquished. She ended up scoring all 14 of her points in the third quarter, adding another 3-pointer, a steal which turned into a layup and two other buckets and a pair of free throws.
Sitzmann did her best to keep the Jays in the game. She hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter which pulled the score to within five. Sitzmann ended as the team’s leading scorer with 13 points.
Barthole and Kate Bonderson had fourth quarter 3-pointers and Hodgson sank a long two as Gehlen pulled to within two points with just under a minute left to go.
“Ryah had some good shots. She was aggressive with the ball which was good,” Schaecher said. “Rysaiah’s shooting kept us alive a little bit and then we got some timely shots from some others as well.”
Johnson said one thing he’d like to have seen his team do better is closing out the game.
“They got excited, especially at the end. I don’t know why. We were up seven points and we think we’re down seven,” Johnson said as his team went from a seven point lead with 2:34 left to just a two point advantage a minute and a half later. “I told the girls relax, run your offense, get a good shot, you’ve got 35 seconds to run off. We got a good lead but we didn’t take care of the ball. We had opportunities to score, we just would throw it away. That’s ball handling. We’ll get better at that. We just got to relax a little bit.”
Free throws from Addison Naslund and Makenzie Hughes helped seal the victory for the Westerners. Hughes finished with 14 points as half of those came at the free-throw line. She was also the team’s leader with six rebounds and added five steals, one behind team leader Allie Swoyer.
Akron-Westfield improved to 1-2 overall and 1-0 in WEC games. After losing to a pair of ranked teams to start the season, Johnson said it was a good confidence builder for his team to get in the win column.
“I’m glad to see what came out tonight,” Johnson said. “We’ll go from here. We’ve got to improve, I know that, but it was great to have a win, the first win of the season.”
Gehlen fell to 1-5 overall and 0-1 in the league.
“Give Akron credit, they kept the pressure on and instead of us being strong and disciplined, we buckled under that pressure,” Schaecher said.
The Jays will try to bounce back at Trinity Christian on Friday while the Westerners are scheduled to host Unity Christian.