Wildcats dominate St. John Paul II 55-29, move on to Sweet 16
Story and photos by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.
Leah Sylvain scored 22 points as the Westport girls …
Leah Sylvain scored 22 points as the Westport girls basketball team dominated St. John Paul II 58-29 in the round of 32 at the high school on Friday night. With the victory, the Wildcats move on to host 11th seed Ayer Shirley in the Sweet 16 on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
“Leah is the heart and soul of the team,” said Coach Gargiulo. “She makes everyone around her better. She pushes her teammates to be their best. She supports them on and off the court. It translates into a team that believes in each other and pushes each other. This tournament run is for her.”
“It was fun, the whole team was having fun,” said Sarah Perry. “It’s nice to go out there and have a good time.”
Sensational Sylvain started the night off on fire, draining two 3-pointers, a layup and a pair of free throws for 10 first quarter points as Westport jumped out to a 17-7 lead. Sylvain was at her very best, also using her exceptional ball handling skills to dribble out of traps set by St. Johns on several occasions in the first half.
“Honestly I was really nervous going into this game. We lost a year ago today in the playoffs,” said Sylvain. “But we got the nerves out and we ended up killing them.”
The Wildcats passed the ball well and scored often, working in their half-court rotation to off set the Lions’ double teams in the first half. Sylvain added 3 more points in the second quarter. She took a pass while rotating saw an empty lane and drove to the basket for a layup. The next time she drew a foul and sank a free throw.
“Our girls put in a lot of work last week to prepare for this game,” said Wildcats head coach Jen Gargiulo. “Everything is heightened during the tournament and we capitalized on our opportunities.”
Westport also dominated St’ Johns defensively, holding the Lions to just 13 first half points.
“We make teams play at a pace that they are not comfortable with,” said Coach Gargiulo. “That causes turnovers.”
The Wildcats made 14 steals and grabbed 28 rebounds as a team while playing in their three-two defense. Guards Korynne Holden and Julia George played in the front court, forward Sarah Perry and center Jenna Egbe were in back with Sylvain roaming to add pressure where needed. Coach Gargiulo put the fiery and determined Perry on St. Johns’ senior Maggie Crawford. She also had Egbe help out as well.
“She’s a talented player,” Coach Gargiulo said of Crawford. “I told the girls that they are going to have a hard assignment, boxing her out and keeping her off of the boards and they battled all night long.”
Perry held Crawford to just 2 points and led the team defensively, with 9 boards and 5 steals to go with her 8 points.
“Coach Gargiulo gave me a job to do. I knew from the beginning the job that I had and it kept me motivated,” said Perry. “She always goes with the same, focus discipline and composure. She specified composure and to keep working. I think we fixed that in the second half. We were much more composed.”
Jenna Egbe continued to improve. The tall athletic center grabbed 7 boards, 3 steals and scored 6 points. She drew two fouls while making put backs in the first half as Westport led 27-13 at halftime. Tess Sylvia and Meghan Molloy were also solid defensively.
“It took us a while to settle in. The nerves of tournament amplifies everything,” said Coach Gargiulo. “But I’m really proud of how the girls played. They were tenacious all night.”
After the break, the Wildcats intensified their play and led by as many as 30 points.
“St. Johns is a good team and you can’t let them back in,” Coach Gargiulo said. “I told them, let’s put them away now.”
And the Wildcats did just that. Holden who netted 5 first half points scored 8 points on fast break opportunities in the third quarter.
“As a team we played well,” said Holden. “When the other team made a run, our mindset is always the next play. We really take that seriously and look forward to getting a win instead of letting it affect our play.”
George drew a foul, sank a pair of free throws, drained a 3-pointer and drove in for a layup. Sylvain caught fire again in the fourth quarter and drained a pair of three-pointers. She drew two fouls while driving the lane and sank 3 of 4 from the free throw line. Perry also drew a pair of fouls and sank all four free throws. Shelby Orr also drew a foul, putting up a shot from under the hoop. She made the free throw to complete the 3-point play.
“Any team in this bracket is good,” said Perry about the chance to play in the Sweet 16. “We’ll prepare and go out there and try our best and try to play our best.”