All of a sudden, Winfield sure looks a lot like last season’s team.
It’s up-tempo, it’s relentless on the glass and, most importantly, it’s effective, and it was again on Wednesday night as the Class AA No. 8 Generals concluded their regular season with a 63-55 win at Cardinal Conference and Region 4 Section 1 rival Nitro. With the win, the Generals clinched second place in the league.
Winfield (15-7) forced 19 turnovers out of a full-court press that seemed to wear down the Wildcats late.
Nitro freshman Baylee Goins poured in 36 points, but no other Wildcat finished with more than five, and Winfield held a 44-27 advantage on the glass.
The Generals, who made a run to the Class AA semifinals a year ago, fell out of the top 10 at one point, but since a 57-52 loss at Hurricane on Jan. 29, Winfield has ripped off five wins over its last six games, with the only loss coming at the hands of Class AAA No. 1 Buckhannon-Upshur.
During the final stretch of the regular season, coach Jimmy McPherson admitted he’s gone to a full-court press a little more often, a defense Winfield utilized a year ago and one in which the Generals seem more comfortable as their athleticism and speed overwhelms most opponents.
“I’m an idiot sometimes,” McPherson said. “When we start giving up layups in the press, I want to get out of it because we’re giving up scoring opportunities out of it and we play real good half-court defense. That’s what I see sometimes. I did a few games ago say, ‘We’re going to press a little bit more.’ It may be ineffective at times, we may give up some layups, but it’s going to wear on a team. We’re committed to our pressure, we’re committed to our man-to-man and the girls have been stepping it up.”
Wearing down is a good way to describe what occurred on Wednesday as Nitro came out and grabbed a 19-16 lead after one period before a 9-3 run to close the second quarter gave Winfield a 29-26 lead at the break.
Winfield stretched the advantage in the third, leading by as many as 12 points as Z.Z. Russell canned a 3-pointer late in the period.
But Nitro pulled back within six with a 3-pointer from Goins, one of five for her on the night, and a pair of free throws from Torri Porterfield. Porterfield had two looks at a 3 with the score 59-53 with a chance to really make things interesting, but both rattled in and out.
Emily Hudson, who finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds for Winfield, hit three free throws on the next two possessions and Winfield was on its way.
“Baylee did all she could,” Nitro coach Pat Jones said. “We just didn’t play smart basketball tonight. I think their press made us nervous for some reason and no team has done that to us tonight.
“We just didn’t box out well at all. Boxing out was the key to the game and I told them before the game if we didn’t box out, we’d get beat. They’re very aggressive. As soon as a shot goes up, they all crash the boards. We didn’t do that tonight and I think that’s what got us.”
Goins added six rebounds and four steals, leading her team in both categories.
Russell scored 20 points to lead four double-figure scorers for Winfield, with Mara McGrew and Lauren Hudson each contributing 10 points.
The game closed the regular season for both teams and now both will play on Monday with their postseason lives on the line as Winfield, the No. 3 seed in the section, will host Point Pleasant. Nitro, the No. 4 seed, will host Poca.
And while Winfield seems to be peaking at the right time, perhaps things weren’t as bad as the Generals’ record would have suggested.
The team’s seven losses have all come to ranked teams, with five of those on the road or on a neutral court, including two to No. 1 North Marion and the one aforementioned loss to the Buccaneers.
With state-tournament experience and plenty of talent, Winfield is a confident bunch heading into the postseason, no matter how tough the section and region are.
“We know it’s coming down to it and we’ve got to keep playing hard,” Russell said. “We want to make it to states and we want to win states. We’ve got to keep pushing and pushing and playing hard as a team.”
“Certainly we’re playing a little better, but look at who we’ve lost to,” McPherson added. “We’ve played I think the toughest schedule in double-A. It might have hurt us seeding wise, but we’re a battle-tested team and we’re ready for the postseason.”
Russell tweaked an ankle in the fourth quarter but was able to re-enter in what had become a physical battle. Porterfield also was forced to leave late in the fourth after taking a knee in the thigh. Both players are expected to be fine by Monday.
But Nitro’s Brooke Entenmann suffered an apparent wrist injury and Jones was uncertain as to its severity.