Nearly three weeks after suffering a two-point loss to Walter Johnson, the Wootton girls’ basketball team entered the Wildcats’ gym Tuesday night in a state of surprise. Kristen Larrick, the Walter Johnson senior standout center, was nowhere to be found, having suffered an injury earlier this week at practice. Although Wootton Coach Maggie Dyer would later call Larrick’s missing presence the “elephant in the room,” it didn’t change Sarah Wallerstedt’s aggressive mentality on the blocks.
Wallerstedt was terrific Tuesday, scoring eight of her 12 points in the final three minutes and making a slew of game-changing plays to lead the Patriots to a 57-52 win in a key Montgomery 4A South contest in Bethesda.
“That was really unfortunate,” said Wallerstedt of Larrick not playing Tuesday. “I think either way . . . it was a team effort. We pulled it off.”
The parity in the 4A South this season is notable — and Wootton (12-3, 5-2) and Walter Johnson (10-5, 4-3) entered Tuesday night as two of the four teams tied atop the division. Early on, it looked as if Walter Johnson would cruise to a season sweep of its rival, taking a 16-4 lead after guard Melanie Ackerman (14 points) hit three three-pointers.
But just as it has all year, Wootton imposed its physicality on the interior behind Wallerstedt, Sheri Addison (12 points) and Sophie Ellis (nine points), the latter of whom sat out three weeks with an ankle sprain and was purposefully nursed along by Dyer in order to be able to play in the rematch against the 6-foot-2 Larrick and the Wildcats.
“We prepared for [Larrick] to play. It changed the game. I will give WJ a ton of credit,” Dyer said. “I thought Sarah Wallerstedt . . . you know, just played her face off in the fourth quarter. Hitting free throws, and attacking the basket and getting rebounds with four fouls, I was really proud of her effort tonight. ”
After Walter Johnson had secured a 50-48 lead with just under three minutes remaining, Wallerstedt was fouled on the ensuing possession. The senior captain made her first free throw, then missed the second, but Wootton came down with the offensive rebound, and Wallerstedt quickly scored on a finger roll after slashing to the basket, giving her club a one-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish. She added four free throws in the final minute to seal the win, having never let up on attacking in the post despite being in foul trouble.
“We were all really frustrated with the first loss [against Walter Johnson],” Wallerstedt said. “So we were all coming back for revenge.”