The Westlake boys started off 2014 with a loss to St. Maria Goretti and a pledge that after that 64-52 result, there was no room for losses, especially to fellow Southern Maryland Athletic Conference teams.
The Wolverines (9-3, 6-1 SMAC) have won five games in a row since that Jan. 4 game. The most recent win came Friday against rival North Point, 67-57, for their first victory against the Eagles since 2009. North Point had won nine of the past10 meetings.
The Eagles (10-3, 7-1) had a two-point lead going into the half, but the Wolverines returned to their home court after the break for a 27-point third quarter and held North Point to just 12 points. The Eagles outscored Westlake by three in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough.
“We came together as a team and played defense, just pulled it together,” said senior guard Desi Wiseman, who scored 12 points in the win.
“We came out with defense after the first half to cut down on turnovers and stopped giving North Point so many layups and easy buckets. It gave us the lead and kept us in the game.”
The crowd was packed for the hyped rivalry matchup and 93.9 stopped by for “Full Court Fridays” to keep the gym engaged during lulls or halftime. There were times a standout play — such as Wiseman’s alley-oop to center Derrick Perry in the late third quarter — brought the crowd to its feet and in turn kept the intensity rising on the court.
“The crowd was amazing,” Wiseman said. “Everybody was excited. Westlake hasn’t beat North Point in who knows how long, so we’re just excited to accomplish something like that, to get it off our backs.”
The Wolverines spent the weekend resting up for a four-game slate in the next five days. They open the week against upstart Patuxent (7-5), which upset Thomas Stone (6-5) earlier in the season and beat Lackey (7-6) and Great Mills (7-3). Then it’s on to a rescheduled meeting with McDonough (1-10) Tuesday.
Wednesday is a rematch with the Hornets at home. Great Mills is the only conference team to beat Westlake this season, and the mid-December win came on a buzzer-beating three at Great Mills. The Wolverines will have one day off before traveling to Huntingtown Friday.
“We’ve been coming together really well since that last loss,” Wiseman said. “We’re trying to win a state championship. We’re just trying to take one win at a time to make the ultimate goal.”
Huntingtown Coach VaShawne Gross is used to leading a team that starts off shaky and finds its footing by late January. This year’s squad is off to a 7-3 start and going into games as the favorite, a situation the Hurricanes haven’t had in years.
“One of my kids was saying, ‘I don’t even know how it feels to be 7-3,’” Gross said. “This year we kind of started on top, so now it’s more of trying to maintain it. Some of our players have never been in this situation before.”
The Hurricanes (4-3 SMAC) were two free throws and two turnovers from a 16-6 record last season, Gross recalls, instead of the eventual 10-14 result. This year he’s got a stacked roster that’s three or four players deep at some positions.
There’s been less competition to keep a starting or second-string spot in past years, Gross said. This year the players have begun to realize “if you don’t do it, someone else will,” he added.
Huntingtown plays 10 games in the next three weeks. The stacked scheduling is because of snow days and Gross’s preference to push back some of the early-season games in case the football team is still alive in the playoffs.
They start the week with a rematch against Northern (7-6), who they last played 10 days ago and beat 68-66. Then it’s back-to-back home games against Thomas Stone and Westlake. Huntingtown squandered a 16-point lead to the Wolverines in a loss last season.
“We haven’t really played a perfect game yet,” Gross said. “I’m waiting for us to have that one night when we pull it all together.”