Down by seven at halftime, Judson head coach Triva Corrales challenged her girls to play better defensively, and they responded in a big way.
A 14-4 run that lasted the entirety of the third quarter propelled No. 2 Judson to a Regional Quarterfinal win against No. 6 Westlake Tuesday night at Hays High School.
“They were penetrating at will on us [in the first half], and we had to stop the penetration,” Corrales said. “The penetration was compromising our defense, and we needed to stop reaching and play fundamentally sound defense, and we did that. That gave us some good energy.”
Westlake came out of the gate shaky, but halfway through the first quarter, they upped the pace and took control of the game. Many of the Judson players became visibly worn out, and with just under six minutes left in the first half and trailing 16-10, Corrales called a timeout to tell her girls to “Wake up.”
But the message didn’t help, and Westlake point guard sophomore Presley Bennett continued to carve up the Rockets’ defense with dribble penetration. Her 11 points and three assists secured a 28-21 lead for the Chaps heading into the second half.
“We had it — we were so close,” Presley said. “We were up seven at half, and we were celebrating like, ‘We got this.’ But we weren’t expecting that third quarter, and it’s just devastating because we’ve been with these seniors for two years, and we were best friends with them, so it’s really sad.”
Westlake wasn’t able to find another bucket until seven minutes into the third quarter, and by that point, Judson had all the momentum.
“[They were] just pressuring the ball, and it caught us off guard,” Presley said. “We didn’t really know how to handle it, and it turned into more layups for them, and we were rushing on offense, so we weren’t poised enough to finish that [third] quarter.”
Turnovers became a recurring theme for the Chaps throughout the game, but especially in the second half when it started leading to more Judson layups. Westlake finished the game with 21 turnovers, and their head coach, Katie Hensle, praised Judson’s defense for that.
Bennett also found herself having to deal with a shadow for most of the second half, and that forced sophomore Bailee Chynoweth to have to bring up the ball.
“Give credit to Judson — they scored 81 the other night, so it’s not like they’re not used to turning people over,” Hensle said. “That’s one of the things they do best. They tried to take the ball out of Presley’s hands, and when they did, in moments, we had other kids really step up, but as a whole, we have to get better at that.”
With four of the five starters being sophomores, and one more, Emily Seghers, playing big minutes off the bench, the core of the team will remain intact for two more years. Presley said getting this far in playoffs and playing a team as talented and athletic as Judson will help them moving forward.
“We’ve come so far, especially from last year when we got embarrassed in the first round,” she said. “We don’t really play teams like this during our District season, so we’re learning from all these games and in [next year’s] preseason, we’ll learn [some more]. We expect to go way further than the third round next year.”
Judson, a team that made the State Semifinal last year before losing to Duncanville, moves on to the Regional Semifinal where they will face United South.
“No game is going to be easy at this point — every game is probably going to be close,” Corrales said. “[Westlake] is an amazing team, they have amazing kids, and since they’re super young, I expect to see them at State very soon. But moving forward [for us], it’s about surviving and advancing.”