Oxford — Western’s girls basketball team, ranked No. 8 in Class 3A, made sure it punched its ticket for Friday’s sectional semifinals with a 12-2 third quarter run that sealed a 54-31 victory over Howard County rival Northwestern in the last night Benton Central sectional opener for both teams.
Western (18-4), the defending sectional champions, now takes on Twin Lakes (12-10) in the second game of sectional semis Friday night. Twin Lakes edged Maconaquah 47-46 in the first game last night. No. 3-ranked Benton Central (18-3) will face West Lafayette (17-5) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.
After handily beating Northwestern the first two times they played them, Western’s coach Chris Keisling said knew the Tigers would come out and play with something to prove. The Panthers defense, though, proved too much for the Tigers.
Western jumped ahead early with an aggressive defense that created 15 Northwestern turnovers in the first half, allowing the Panthers to race out to a 29-18 lead by intermission, and setting up the clinching effort in the third quarter.
“They know us well, know what they’ve got to and where all of our weaknesses are,” Keisling said. “It’s like playing your brother in a backyard game. Fortunately we were able to win against an up-and-coming team. Coach Kathie Layden is doing a great job there and they’ve progressed all year long, but we just had too much for them.”
After a slow moving first quarter that saw both teams stuck on a 2-2 score for the opening five minutes, Carley O’Neal broke the ice with a 3-pointer with 2:46 left. Jessica Givens followed with another trey and O’Neal piled one more on to push Western’s lead to 11-6.
In the second quarter, a Kiersten Durbin 3-pointer gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead (18-8) with 6:42 left. Western would lead by as many as 13 points at two different points in the quarter.