BELOIT - Conference championships aren't won in December, but the West Branch girls basketball team took an important step in the right direction Wednesday night.
Playing a Louisville team that it shared the Northeastern Buckeye Conference title with last season, the Warriors overcame early foul trouble from two of their best players and pulled away in the third quarter for a 56-44 win.
After an early conference loss to first place Carrollton, West Branch now sits at 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the NBC. Louisville drops to 2-4, 2-2.
"After that loss to Carrollton it was really important that we not fall two games behind," West Branch center Taryn Hahn said. "Louisville is a tough team and we came out and took care of business tonight."
Hahn finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds to power a strong rebounding effort by the Warriors. Backup forward Erica Johnson had eight points and 10 rebounds, while Lea Bock came off the bench to score six points and grab five rebounds. Overall, the Warriors pounded the Leopards on the boards 42-16. Five players had at least five rebounds.
"The girls are starting to realize that if we get a little tougher on the boards we are going to be a lot tougher to beat," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "We've been out-rebounded in three or four games early in the season, since then we've done a lot more rebounding drills in practice and it's paid off."
The Warriors played the vast majority of the second quarter without Trimmer-their primary ball-handler-or Heath, a key scorer and rebounder. Into the gap stepped Hahn, who took on much of the scoring and rebounding load. With help from the bench, the Warriors extended a two-point lead to eight at halftime. Hahn capped off the quarter with a three-pointer in the final minute.
"With Melinda and Pavin on the bench, I knew I was going to have to take a bigger role," Hahn said. "It was big that we were able to withstand them being on the bench."
"Our bench made some big plays tonight," DeShields said. "That adversity will only make us better late in the season if we have a similar situation. They allowed us to save Melinda and Pavin for the second half."
Back to full strength after the break, the Warriors broke it open. Using crisp movement and precise passing, the Warriors went on an 11-0 run to establish a 19 point lead, it would not get closer than 12 the rest of the way. Trimmer wasted no time re-asserting herself. As part of the spurt, she found Heath on a pretty backdoor cut and assisted Hahn on a three-pointer. Trimmer finished with 10 points, five rebounds and six assists.
"It was fun in the third quarter," DeShields said. "We thought we were overdribbling way to much and making careless mistakes in the first half. Once we started passing better and getting everyone involved it was so much more fun. I think it also gave our player more energy on defense."
For most of the game, the Leopards had trouble handling the Warriors pressure defensively. Hollyann Mullet-Louisville's leading scorer-finished with 13 points, but most of them came in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
"We know she runs the floor real well and is a good shooter," DeShields said. "We tried to get out on her as much as possible and not let her see the three-point line."
Louisville, which is trying to replace both it's leading scorer and rebounder from last season, was competitive in the fourth quarter. DeShields recognized that they were still a dangerous team.
"They are still a scary team," DeShields said. "Their coaches do a great job and they have a lot of pride in that program. They will reload and win their share of games this season."
West Branch won the jayvee game 44-17. Mariah Herbert had nine points and Catie Hahn had eight points for the Warriors.
W. BRANCH: 9-17-16-14-56
LOUISVILLE SCORING: Abby Beaver 2-0-4, Sabryna Benzel 0-2-2, Taylor Noble 0-1-1, Hollyann Mullett 4-3-13, Emily Nees 4-0-9, Rachael Zeller 1-0-3, Brooke Layton 2-0-4, Sarah Laiason 2-0-4. TEAM TOTALS: 15, 6-10: 44.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 4-2-10, Emily Menegay 0-1-1, Kaylee Manning 0-1-1, Pavin Heath 2-1-5, Mariah Herbert 0-0-0, Amanda Linhart 2-1-5, Allie Garrett 0-0-0, Catie Hahn 0-0-0, Paige Walsh 0-0-0, Taryn Hahn 7-1-17, Erica Johnson 2-4-8, Lauren Martig 1-0-2, Lea Bock 3-1-7. TEAM TOTALS: 21, 12-20: 56.
Three-point goals: Louisville 5 (Mullett 2, Beaver, Nees, Zeller), West Branch 2 (Hahn).