Westminster upsets No. 1 team, advances to 3rd straight Elite Eight

Published 8:31 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

MONTGOMERY – For the third year in a row, the Westminster at Oak Mountain Knights’ girls basketball team is headed to the Elite Eight, but this time around there seems to be a different feel after upsetting Class 1A No. 1 Pleasant Home 37-34 in the Sweet 16 at Garrett Coliseum on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The Knights used a strong defensive performance, including forcing 12 turnovers and holding Pleasant Grove to 1-16 shooting from beyond the arc, while also pouring in six 3-pointers themselves to pull off the impressive win and all of a sudden cement themselves as a strong contender to take home the 1A title.

The Eagles pulled within a point with 34 seconds to play after trailing 35-27 with 4:50 left to play thanks to a scoreless drought of more than four minutes by the Knights.

With all of the momentum having swung in favor of Pleasant Home, Westminster’s Megan Gache got a big opportunity at the free throw line with 14 seconds remaining.

She stepped to the line and drained both free throws before a timeout was called. Following the timeout, she stepped back to the line and drained the second to extend the lead to three at 37-34.

In the final seconds, Pleasant Home’s Daisy Cordle put up a jump shot, but with four seconds left, it didn’t go and the final seconds ticked off the clock to give the Knights a thrilling 37-34 victory against the No. 1 team.

Westminster is not only in the Elite Eight for the third straight year now, but has the majority of the roster from both previous teams, while having also made it to the Final Four two years ago.

Now, the Knights are looking to overcome last year’s 54-38 loss to Loachapoka in the Regional final and make their way back to the Final Four.

It was a big win for Westminster, especially after finding themselves in a 15-11 hole at the end of the first quarter.

The saving grace in the opening period for the Knights was the three-ball. Pleasant home went 0-5 from beyond the arc, while shooting 6-14 overall, but the Knights made 3-5 from three to account for all but one of their baskets in the opening quarter.

Pleasant Home also went 3-3 from the free throw line and out-rebounded Westminster 10-5 in the frame, both of which played a difference in the score moving to the second.

The Knights got a little closer to the lead at the end of the second quarter after outscoring the Eagles 6-5 in the quarter.

Westminster still wasn’t clicking, however, shooting just 2-10 in the quarter, but what had changed was the Knights’ defensive effort. They allowed just two made field goals in the quarter as Pleasant Home shot just 2-14 overall in the period and 1-6 from three.

To that point in the game, however, the Eagles were playing better basketball also out-rebounding Westminster 23-14 overall and 9-3 on the offensive glass, which, combined with the poor shooting, was the real reason the Knights found themselves down 20-17 at the half.

But with the consistent defensive effort, Westminster was proving that it was going to be very difficult for Pleasant Home to score in the second half.

Going up against the top-ranked team, all the Knights could do was battle defensively and hope that shots would eventually fall.

That’s what happened in the third.

Their shooting percentage wasn’t a ton better, but Gache hit a 3-pointer early in the quarter to tie the score at 20-20, and that was all the spark Westminster needed. The Knights went on to make their most shots of the game to that point at five baskets, which is all they needed with the continued pressure defensively.

Pleasant Home went on to make just one field goal in the quarter, while turning the ball over five times compared to just two times for the Knights, as Westminster grabbed three steals in the period, more than it had the entire first half of play.

Due to the consistent effort, the Knights picked up 10 points off turnovers to outscore the Eagles 12-5 in the frame and take a 29-25 lead into the final quarter.

Westminster extend its run in the fourth period, eventually going on to take a 35-27 lead with 4:50 left to play thanks to two free throws from Morgan White, which capped off an 8-2 lead.

Pleasant Home chipped away at the lead by making five of six free throws over the next few minutes to eventually draw within one point with 42 seconds left, but Gache’s free throws, the only two points in the final 4:49 of the game for the Knights, sealed the game.

Westminster was led by a balanced attack offensively with White, Virginia Welch and Rachel Price all posting nine points, and Gache adding eight points.

The Knights also got an impressive effort on the glass with six different players posting three or more rebounds.

Defensively, they limited Amy Bulger, one of Pleasant Home’s leaders, to 1-17 shooting from the field and 0-8 from beyond the arc, while the Eagles shot just 22.4 percent for the game.

Westminster will now take on No. 8 Brantley in the Elite Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line for the second time in three years. Brantley is coming off a three-point win of its own, but against Loachapoka, who Westminster lost to in the Elite Eight last year. A difficult schedule this year, however, has this team ready for any opponent.