Lawn hoops team exceeds hopes, finishes with winning mark
With the season in the rearview mirror, it’s clear the Warriors exceeded that expectation. Lawn finished the year with a 10-6 record and for the first time since 2009 qualified for the playoffs. From top to bottom, Westall said, it was a total team effort.
“Our players came together and really competed at every game,” he said. “The whole team pushed themselves to be better basketball players.”
The Warriors’ season ended Feb. 8 following their elimination by Ponaganset, 66-45, in the second round of the playoffs. Despite falling short of a title, Westall’s daughter, Casey, said her teammates should be proud of their season.
“Everyone tried as hard as they possibly could, no matter what happened,” said Casey, an eighth-grader and team co-captain.
The team’s other co-captain, eighth-grader Riley Sprague, said the team succeeded because of three key reasons: teamwork, strategy and coaching.
Westall, who has been head coach for three years, said there were not many significant changes to the team’s playing style compared to last year. He did, however, alternate the players’ positions depending on whether they had the ball. For example, Casey and Riley were the primary ball handlers on offense, but at the other side of the floor, they defended the opponent’s front-court players.
“They’re both normally guards, but we had to split them and use them in different positions,” Westall said. “Casey covered more of the center position on defense, but on offense, they brought the ball up.”
While the Warriors ultimately had a successful season, the goal of a winning record was in jeopardy following their Jan. 12 home loss to Portsmouth. At 5-5 and with a postseason berth no guarantee, the girls rallied to win their final four regular season games.
“From the beginning, we’ve definitely improved a lot,” Casey said. “It’s shown in our games.”
The team’s first playoff game was on the road against Joseph Jenks Junior High in Pawtucket. With a loyal and loud hometown crowd rooting for their opponents, the Warrriors played with composure under the pressure, Westall said, utilizing the fast break en route to a 56-44 win.
“It was a real tough atmosphere,” he said. “The girls really produced and played their game to the best of their ability. We played a fast offense and got up early.”
Using speed over size, Lawn capitalized by scoring “a ton of points off that fast break,” Westall said.
“The goal was to push this team and make them run the entire time and not let them utilize their size,” he said.
Riley said she was unfazed to play in a post-season game for the first time in her career.
“It was the same as playing in a normal game,” she said. “I treated it the same way.”
“You’re going to play your hardest no matter what,” Casey added. “We really just did what we normally do.”
Two days later, however, the Warriors were matched against Ponaganset, which Westall called “one of the top teams in the state.”
“It was a tough game,” he said about the 21-point loss. “They were a solid team, but a deep team. That’s a big school to go up against. They certainly carried a lot of height, which we lack.”
Despite the loss, Westall is glad the co-captains and other eighth-graders met their goal by winning more games than they lost in their final year of middle school ball. The team won only eight games in 2015 and 2016 combined.
“(It was) a real leap forward,” he said. “It was very rewarding for the girls to see them make the playoffs from such a small school competing against larger-scale schools.”
Next year’s team will need to find replacements for its captains, but Westall said the underclassmen are prepared to take the next step.
“The goal is to let the next level of players take over,” he said. “We had great performances from our seventh-graders and even some of our sixth-graders got playing time this year. It was great to see.”
Both of the Warriors’ co-captains said they plan to try out for their high school basketball teams as freshmen. Although Casey is not sure where she will attend high school in the fall, Riley will graduate to North Kingstown High School, where her mother coaches the girls’ basketball team.