Wednesday night’s second-round playoff game between the West Hall girls basketball team and Columbus played out exactly like Lady Spartans coach Bryan Richerson expected.
As he told his players before tip-off, the hard-fought contest was decided by big plays on the final few possessions. Six-foot-3 Blue Devils forwards Tatyana Wyatt and Ariyah Copeland took advantage of the mismatch against West Hall’s smaller lineup, just like the coach predicted, but his team’s fierce defense forced other players to take shots at critical moments.
In fact, Richerson said he “couldn’t write out a better script” for the game as it pertained to the Lady Spartans’ effort and defensive scheme.
The only alteration he’d make is to the final score.
No. 1 seed West Hall’s season ended with a 50-47 loss in the Class AAAA state playoffs in Oakwood. A trip to the quarterfinals was on the line in this clash of top-five teams, and Richerson said Wednesday’s game felt more like a state championship than a second-round clash.
“I told my girls it’s probably going to come down to the end and go to the team that made the big plays,” he said. “But unfortunately, we didn’t make the big plays at the end tonight. But I’ll tell you what I just told my girls: I couldn’t be more proud of them. I really think Columbus might be one of the best teams in the state, if not the best.”
Yet the No. 2 Lady Spartans (23-6) had a chance to tie it up late. Sharpshooting junior guard Anna McKendree attempted two 3-pointers on their final possessions, but the pair of contested shots missed the mark.
That came after the second-seeded Lady Blue Devils (22-5) seemingly closed out the game by capitalizing on their size advantage.
While still locked in a one-possession game, Columbus collected two offensive rebounds off missed free throws that helped it drain a large chunk of time in the final two minutes.
Wyatt, a three-star prospect committed to Kentucky, finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Alabama-bound Copeland produced a double-double with 13 rebounds and 12 points, doing most of her damage in the paint while accounting for nearly half of her team’s boards.
“When you’ve got two 6-foot-3 players that can pound it inside, it’s hard to stop with 5-foot-10 players,” Richerson said. “They started taking advantage of that a little bit.”
Though the No. 5 Lady Blue Devils finished strong, West Hall got off to a better start. McKendree hit a stepback 3-pointer and then completed a three-point play to give the Lady Spartans an 8-3 lead early in the first quarter.
The junior suffered a bloody nose after getting elbowed in the face in the opening minutes of the second period, though a foul was not called. But McKendree, the school’s all-time leading scorer, quickly returned to the game after being treated and hit her next four shots.
“She’s a fighter, a competitor,” Richerson said. “She did everything she could to help us win the basketball game tonight and just came up a little short.”
McKendree turned a steal into a layup in the closing seconds of the first half to put West Hall ahead 27-23 at the break. Senior guard Macy Passmore scored all eight of her points during the second quarter.
Right after halftime, the Lady Spartans appeared to permanently steal momentum in the tightly contested game. West Hall took a 32-25 lead on another three-point play by McKendree, and Columbus picked up five fouls by the midway point of the third period.
But the Lady Blue Devils ripped off a 15-1 run to end the quarter, a gut check from which the Lady Spartans never quite recovered.
Guards Brittany Floyd (10 points) and Nasya Williams sank 3-pointers during the game-changing burst, foiling the 2-3 zone Richerson rolled out to counter Columbus’ forward tandem.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do defensively,” the coach said. “They just stepped up and made some shots. In the end, (Wyatt and Copeland) got their shots. But it was the other players who made their shots. Their guards really hurt us.”
West Hall chipped away at the lead but never fully took advantage of its opponent’s foul trouble. The Lady Spartans attempted just nine free throws, all by McKendree.
But senior guard Avery Prather swiped a steal and finished on the other end to reduce the deficit to 48-46 with less than two minutes to play, igniting a home crowd that had grown worried. The Lady Blue Devils, however, attempted four free throws on their next possession thanks to crucial offensive rebounds, making it 50-46 with 38.1 seconds left.
Following a Columbus turnover, McKendree made one of two free throws after getting fouled. Passmore then forced a jump ball to swing possession back to West Hall, but McKendree couldn’t connect on her rushed 3-pointers after Richerson’s timeout.
Trinity Vasquez rebounded the final miss and got fouled before misfiring on the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1.8 seconds remaining. Wyatt fittingly came down with the ball as the clock ran out.
The Lady Spartans now bid farewell to the talented senior class of Passmore, Prather and forwards Danielle Hinkelman and Megan English. They were freshman during Richerson’s first year with the program, and he credited them with turning a losing team into one that nearly made the state quarterfinals in back-to-back seasons.
“I can’t put into words what they mean to this program, to this school. They’re a special group,” an emotional Richerson said. “They’ve built over the last four years for this right here. As a coach, I don’t want to coach anybody else. This group, in my 15 years, is the best I’ve had.
“We were hoping it was our year.”
Instead, Columbus will travel to face No. 1 seed Spalding in the quarterfinals next Tuesday or Wednesday.