By Andy Jacobs
Playing its first game in nine days, the Westlake girls’ basketball team had to shake off a bit of rust on Friday afternoon.
The Wildcats struggled mightily to put points on the board in the first half against visiting Croton-Harmon and even went more than six minutes before finally scoring in the second quarter. But they emerged from the locker room after halftime and quickly took command, outscoring the Tigers 16-4 in the third quarter on the way to a 44-31 victory.
“We were off all week and it took us a little time to get our groove back,” said Wildcats head coach Sean Mayer shortly after his team had earned its fourth straight win. “We didn’t make some shots, we were a little sluggish, a lot of turnovers. At halftime, we made some adjustments.”
Allie Castellone scored nine of her game-high 20 points in Westlake’s big third quarter, helping the Wildcats improve to 10-3 this season. Her 3-point basket from the top of the key just 10 seconds into the third quarter broke a 14-14 halftime tie and gave the Wildcats a lead they never relinquished.
After a pair of free throws by Lucia Thoreson moved Croton within a point nearly a minute into the second half, the Wildcats outscored the Tigers 13-2 over the rest of the third quarter. Back-to-back layups from Riley Giaccone started the big run and then a couple of baskets from Castellone, exactly a minute apart, enabled Westlake to grab its first double-digit lead of the day.
With 35 seconds remaining in the period, Castellone weaved her way through the lane for a scoop shot that gave the Wildcats, who once trailed 9-2 and 11-4, a 30-18 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Westake built its largest lead, 14 points, when ToniAnn Mastracchio, who scored all nine of her points in the last quarter, connected on a 17-foot jumper from the right baseline 30 seconds in.
“We wanted to get the ball inside, in the paint, a little bit more, and we did that,” said Mayer about the halftime adjustments. “Obviously when your half-court offense is sluggish, getting fast-break points is huge. And that opened things up. We had a big third quarter and that kind of set the stage.”
Despite 10 fourth-quarter points from Thoreson, who finished with 20, Croton never got any closer than eight points down the stretch. A 15-foot jumper from just left of the foul line by Mastracchio with 1:13 remaining on the clock all but sealed the outcome, and Castellone provided the Wildcats with their final margin when she hit on a 3-pointer out of the right corner with 45 seconds to go.
“It was a nice win,” said Mayer, who would’ve liked to have played a game or two during the nine-day layoff. “We’ve had some good practices, but, you know, when you don’t play for that long it does take time to get to your groove. We made some very basic mistakes early.”
As a result, Croton, now 4-11, jumped out to a surprising early lead. The Wildcats just couldn’t put the ball in the basket and it took a baseline jumper by Julie Lyden and then a put-back from Francesca DeMartino to get them within 11-8 at the end of the first quarter.
In the first minute of the second quarter, the Tigers stretched their lead back up to six points, but then never scored again the rest of the first half. Westlake, meanwhile, wasn’t much better offensively. But after going scoreless themselves over the first six minutes of the period, the Wildcats ended the half with a pair of 3-pointers from Castellone that sent the teams off at halftime even at 14-apiece.
The first-half struggle for the Wildcats was a disappointing follow-up to their dazzling 56-28 home rout of Briarcliff in their previous game. Castellone and Lyden led the way with 14 points apiece and Giaccone and Sami Oswald combined for 20 more as Westlake played one of its most memorable games in Mayer’s long tenure at the school.
“That was probably one of our best games as a program, and I’ve been here 21 years,” he said. “Really, from start to finish, we took it to ‘em. We made a lot of shots. Briarcliff wasn’t on and we were.”
A game like that can cause a team to dream of even bigger things down the road.
“You know, we’ve talked about it,” said Mayer. “We certainly have our goals. But we’re just gonna take one game at a time. Now we have seven games left, so we still have a lot of improvement to do. I think if we play well, we can keep going as far as we can go.”
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.