By ROB TUCKER
Special to the OBSERVER
From the moment her five sophomores took the floor on Saturday afternoon, Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle could feel something wasn't quite right.
OBSERVER?Photo by Rob Tucker
Fredonia’s Maddy Crandall (22) works through a pair of Southwestern defenders on Saturday during their Section 6 Class B-2 girls basketball quarterfinal, in Lakewood.
"We stepped on the court, and it was obvious to me we weren't ready to play," Zirkle said. "I really felt, coming into (Saturday), that we were prepared, but you couldn't tell that by watching us play."
The Lady Hillbillies' opponents, on the other hand, had no such issues.
Aggressive, energetic and focused from the opening tip-off until the final buzzer 32 minutes later, fourth-seeded Southwestern cruised to a 56-35 Section 6 Class B-2 quarterfinal victory over its fifth-seeded foes to the north.
The victory, the eighth this season for the Lady Trojans, earns them a semifinal battle with top-seeded Wilson (16-1) at Pioneer on Wednesday.
Led by Alex Sullivan on the perimeter and Emily Wuebbolt on the block, Southwestern sprinted out to a 10-0 lead over the first two minutes of play and never looked back.
"They just wanted to come out on fire," Southwestern coach Anne Beck said of the quick start. "They had collectively decided that they were going to work really hard and I was really pleased with the intensity."
That high intensity came in the form of a suffocating, full-court pressure defense, which denied the Lady Hillbillies even one shot over the first two minutes of play and forced seven turnovers in their first eight offensive trips.
Southwestern finished with 17 steals.
"We didn't have our confidence because we were missing layups, we weren't hitting shots that we normally make and we just weren't able to get into an offensive flow," Zirkle said, "and that's because of the Southwestern pressure; they did a really nice job with the press."
While the defense created confidence issues in its opponents, it had the opposite effect on the Lady Trojans, especially junior standouts Sullivan and Wuebbolt.
Sullivan took advantage of the turnovers to score easy buckets on the fast break, but soon found the range from beyond the arc, pouring in a game-high 26 points, including the first six during the opening 10-0 run. She then netted 11 during a 15-4 spree to start the second half that increased the lead to a sizable 19 points, 40-21, by the 2:45 mark of the third quarter.
"That was our goal," Beck said of the up-tempo offense. "We wanted to run our transition offense, which is like a fast break, because we're better if we can just pass, catch and shoot."
Wuebbolt, meanwhile, took advantage of her size and strength under the hoop when Fredonia did manage to force the Lady Trojans into a set offense. Posting up on the block and waiting for the entry pass, Wuebbolt dropped in 18 points.
The 5-foot-11 post player also hauled in 16 of Southwestern's 32 total rebounds.
"She works hard underneath and just battles and battles and battles," Beck said. "And the girls feed off of that - she's a positive influence out there. We got a lot of energy from her today."
Together the pair combined for 14 of their squad's 18 points in the opening period as Southwestern built an 18-9 advantage; 15 of 19 during the third quarter when it grew the lead to 42-25; and 11 of 14 in the final period.
"I tried a couple of different combinations, but we just weren't able to stop (Sullivan and Wuebbolt)," Zirkle said of her attempts to slow the onslaught, "and that allowed them to build confidence."
A solid victory, and some redemption, now in the books - Fredonia had beaten Southwestern the last time these two teams met - Beck is hoping that confidence carries over to Wednesday against Wilson.
"They have a couple good 3-point shooters, but if we can run our game and force our tempo on them, I like our chances," she said, before adding with a smile. "We're the underdog, but I kind of like going in that way."
NOTES: Along with Wuebbolt and Sullivan, Mary Agarwala had six boards and four points while Jenna Yuchnitz made seven steals and dished out five assists. The two seniors were playing the final home game of their Southwestern careers. For Fredonia, Morgan Genovese had eight rebounds and six points and Maddy Crandall tallied eight points to go along with three steals and two rebounds.