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There is always a first time for everything.
Marshall had never lost in the opening round of the state playoffs, but that streak came to an end Wednesday night.
Sophomore center Akina Wellere scored 18 points to go with a career-high 19 rebounds as Westinghouse shocked the Commandos 48-43 at the Class 3A Wheaton Academy Regional semifinals.
“It means a lot to us because we work hard in practice,” Wellere said. “We dedicated every day to be better prepared for the state playoffs and win because Marshall came into the game thinking they were going to beat us and we wanted to upset them and get farther in the state playoffs.’’
The two teams had split a pair of games during the regular season. Neither game was close, so Murphy’s Law made sure this one would be.
Marshall (13-10) led 14-8 after the first quarter and was up 24-20 before Westinghouse scored the last four points of the first half to forge a 24-24 halftime tie. At that point, legendary Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters knew her squad was in for a tough time.
“We missed 20 layups at halftime,” Gaters said. “Twenty. I had no leaders on the floor. Just no leadership at all.”
Not only did the Warriors have leadership, they had motive. Westinghouse, the No. 12 sectional seed, lost to the fifth-seeded Commandos in the city playoffs and first round of the state tournament last year.
“This has been our goal because last year we played them and got knocked out,” Westinghouse coach Sarah Lenert said. “This is a game that we were very excited to play. My girls showed up and that’s all I can ask for.”
Led by Wellere’s dominant play at both ends, the Warriors scored the first six points of the second half, with Wellere notching the first two baskets on driving layups, and never trailed again.
In a contest where neither team shot well, Wellere made her first five shots after intermission.
“We had to become more intense because I felt like we were a little tired in the first half,” Wellere said. “So we had to bring it second half because we knew they were going to bring it.”
The Commandos did just that, pulling with 40-39 when Yowana Posey rebounded a missed free throw and scored with 3:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But Westinghouse charged back down the floor and Wellere sank both ends of a one-and-one six seconds later. After a Marshall miss, Yashica Blackman scored on a putback to make it 44-39.
Posey, who tallied 10 of her team-leading 14 points in the second half, scored inside with 2:40 left to bring Marshall within three, but layups from Blackman and Imanne Mondane put the game away for Westinghouse.
“We practice a lot of composure, so all we think about when you get to the line, if you miss you run,” Wellere said.
“I think [the Warriors] got nervous, but when it came down to it, they wanted to win and it showed,” Lenert said. “They worked hard and I was proud of them.”
Blackman had 12 points and seven steals and Mondane added 11 points for Westinghouse, which will face No. 4 seed Latin (23-3) in Friday’s title game.
Tyisha Saunders had nine points and 12 rebounds and Lyric Bryant tallied eight points for Marshall, which made only 18 of 63 shots and committed 27 turnovers.