Westfield came into its Bulldog Bash semifinal Tuesday night confident, having won four straight games by an average of 21 points. That confidence was put to the test early by St. Albans, which presented the Bulldogs with a variety of defensive looks.
After about four minutes, Westfield had seen enough. Following a timeout, a team committed to ball movement emerged, leading to a barrage of threes and catapulting the hosts to an 86-78 win in Chantilly.
Westfield (6-2) advances to Wednesday’s championship, where it will face Landstown in a rematch of last year’s Virginia 6A state semifinal, won by Westfield in triple overtime.
Tyler Scanlon (31 points) and Blake Francis (26 points) accounted for Westfield’s first 14 points, jumpstarting a 16-2 run after the timeout to take the lead for good. Just as important were consecutive three-pointers by Hank Johnson to close the first quarter, which forced St. Albans to switch out of its zone and into a man-to-man defense in hopes of accounting for Westfield’s playmakers.
“Their defense was sort of shading toward me and Blake, so when Hank hits those threes, it alleviated some of the pressure on us, and as we got the ball moving more, it allowed us to get open shots,” Scanlon said.
Westfield capitalized on those open looks, making seven of 11 three-pointers in the first half to take a 37-26 lead.
St. Albans (8-4) managed to cut the deficit to six early in the third quarter, when George Walker hustled inside to score nine of his team-high 31 points and William Howell (16 points) knocked down several jumpers. But Westfield responded, this time by attacking the lane. Francis sliced toward the rim for 12 third-quarter points, and Kory Jones punctuated a 9-0 run with another three.
Scanlon took over from there, using his newfound quickness off the dribble to score 13 fourth-quarter points, including a soaring one-handed slam in traffic that extended the lead to 23.
“If Tyler starts off hot, then the defense tries to focus on him, and that gives me space to make plays,” Francis said. “And it works both ways. I think that’s what makes us so dangerous as a one-two punch.”
●LANDSTOWN 67, WEST SPRINGFIELD 57: The plan that had worked so well for three quarters lost its two key components when West Springfield forwards Lewis Djonkam and Brock Vaughn began the fourth period on the bench with foul trouble.
No longer did the Spartans (7-1) have the defensive rebounding ability or height advantage to thwart Landstown’s high-energy press, leading to a string of turnovers that allowed the Eagles to chip away at a second-half deficit that once stood at 14 points.
“We aren’t really used to playing without them, and it was a lot different,” said Gabriel Kier, who finished with seven points. “But we’ve got to learn how to adjust and play tough in those situations.”
Initially, the Spartans had done that. Following a sluggish start, Kier and Andrew Storr got hot during a 17-0 first-quarter run that put West Springfield in control. But with a smaller lineup in the final minutes, Landstown surged back behind the play of Bryson Stukes, who scored nine points during a 31-point fourth quarter for the Eagles.