West Branch tops Garfield in opener
BELOIT — The lights are back on, the scoreboards show signs of life, and a limited number of spectators seat themselves within the confines of the West Branch Fieldhouse.
Believe it or not, basketball is back.
After losing four starters last season, and having their magical 2019-20 campaign cut short just before the start of the Final Four at St. John’s Arena in Columbus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Branch girls basketball team comes into the season with a lot to prove.
On Saturday evening, West Branch hosted a respectable Garfield team that won 19 games last season and defended its home gym by a final of 48-33.
“Oh man, I know the girls are ready to play,” said Warriors coach Walt DeShields, who’s in his 16th season at the helm. “You get out on the court and you don’t get any guarantees with how many games you get, so really excited to get that first one in and get a W against a good basketball team with experience. Garfield is going to win a lot of games this year.”
Senior Riley Tuel scored the first points of the contest and the season for West Branch with a layup, but Garfield found itself ahead 10-8 after the first 8 minutes, thanks in part to junior Jenna Smith’s early six points.
West Branch senior Emma Egli caught fire in the second quarter with seven points, including a 3-pointer in the midst of a 9-3 run that helped the host Warriors take a 26-19 lead into halftime.
“It’s all about my teammates,” said Egli, who ended with 13 points. “I wouldn’t be here without them.
“They’re definitely a quality opponent, they had a lot of returning starters that have been starters for three or four years, and we’re young,” Egli said. “We’re a little inexperienced, but we came out and got a key win.”
With West Branch ahead 31-21, Garfield went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 31-29, thanks to some big shots by senior Grace Mills.
The Warriors followed with a 7-0 run that began with a successful three-point play by senior Bella Laut and was capped by a buzzer-beater from Egli. West Branch then limited the G-Men to four points in the final quarter.
Anna Lippiatt, a junior guard who is the only returning starter for West Branch, credited the defensive effort.
“I think we did really well on defense,” she said. “Got some good stops. The offense in the beginning was a little rough, we’re making shots, but once we got into the second quarter, shots started falling.”
One of the new faces for the Warriors is freshman Livvie Showalter, a 6-foot-1 center who tallied seven points in the victory, as did Lippiatt. She was excited to hit the high school floor for the first time.
“It was definitely an awesome experience,” she said. “It was very odd, and I was kinda nervous, but my team definitely pumped me up and we were all very supportive of each other.
“I think I did pretty good, but you know, a post is only as good as their guards, and I couldn’t have done it without my team.”
Garfield coach Aaron Gilbert had a simple message following the loss.
“Missed layups. Missed layups cost us the game,” he said. “Right there, we go six straight possessions and missed layups and they made shots, and it ends up going from a six-point game to a 14-point game.
“Effort was there, they’re just a good team, it’s a tough game to open up with.”
Smith recorded a game-high 14 points for the G-Men, and she was followed by Mills who had nine, and junior Sarah Seaman with eight.
West Branch moves on to face Canfield on the road on Tuesday, one of three teams that the Warriors lost to last season.
“I know that Canfield is always well-coached, a good basketball team, and we’ve really got one day to get ready for them,” DeShields said. “But it’s early, everybody is trying to get some experience and just hoping that we get to continue to play.”