With no returning starters, one player with varsity experience and one senior on his roster, Westfield Coach Doug Ewell knew that this season would be a work in progress.
One place where the 10th-year boys’ basketball coach did find reason for optimism was in the last name of one of his sophomores. Five years ago, the Bulldogs were led to a 22-win season by guard Brandon Francis. Now, after spending his freshman year at O’Connell, Brandon’s younger brother, Blake, appeared ready to step into a similar impact role.
“I saw Blake at our basketball camp, so I knew he could play,” Ewell said. “You could say I was begging and pleading for him to come to Westfield as a freshman, but I completely understand why he went the route he did at first. But now that he’s back, he’s been a great fit.”
From his first game of the season, when he posted a career-high 31 points, Francis has established himself as the Bulldogs’ go-to scorer and leader, allowing Westfield to overcome a tough midseason stretch and advance to Tuesday’s Virginia Conference 5 semifinals against No. 13 Herndon.
Due to the minimal experience on Westfield’s roster, Ewell said that Francis’s infectious work ethic proved key in the Bulldogs earning the fourth seed in a tough Conference 5. Not one for many words, this drive is how Francis has established himself as a leader in just his first season with the team.
“Coach Ewell placed me in a leadership role, and I’ve been working to communicate with my teammates more, stay positive at all times and execute on both offense and defense,” Francis said.
The sophomore’s skills also speak volumes behind a consistent outside shot, efficient play and an ability to create opportunities at the free throw line. Teaming with junior Jacob Williams, Francis anchors a two-point guard system that relies on the backcourt to produce most of the team’s offense.
The tandem put together one of their best performances of the season in last week’s upset of then-No. 20 Robinson, combining for 41 points and sparking Westfield on its current three-game win streak. Before then, it appeared the Bulldogs’ inexperience had caught up with them during a stretch in which they lost seven of nine games.
In that span, Francis, who averages 14.3 points per game, was held under his season average six times, forcing him to re-evaluate his approach. The sophomore soon poured more of his energy onto the defensive end, which in turn helped create better offensive opportunities for him and his teammates. Since then, Francis has averaged 19.2 points and looks to continue that string of success with an upset of a talented Herndon team that Westfield played close a week ago.
“I had to become a defensive leader and not just score,” said Francis, who is garnering interest from Old Dominion. “When we focus on our defense and rebounding, we are at our best.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 1:05.344
Time in minutes and seconds that Douglass Rico Gomez ran the 500 meters at Monday’s Maryland 2A/1A indoor track and field championships, marking a new 2A state meet record and earning the title for the junior.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
Check out this week’s top basketball plays.
-Click here to see how this week’s Post Top 20 boys’ and girls’ basketball rankings shake out.
-Mount Vernon’s Bill Adusei and Freedom-South Riding’s Bradley Nelson were among several local winners at Monday’s Virginia 5A North region wrestling championships.
-Former All-Met and Chantilly alumus Sean McGorty, now a freshman at Stanford, continued to raise his national running profile by winning this past weekend’s USA Cross Country 8K title.
-Lake Braddock freshman pitcher Patty Maye Ohanian — who has yet to play a high school game – committed to play softball at Illinois.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Boys’ basketball: No. 12 National Christian at No. 9 Clinton Christian, 7 p.m.
The Capital Beltway rivals will clash for the second time this season in a key conference contest. The game will pit National Christian Coach Trevor Brown against Clinton Christian Coach Christian Cole, whose bond with Brown goes much deeper than basketball.