By Chris McCarthy/Editor
With their team’s season hanging by a thread on Monday (Feb. 15) in Rainbow City, Westbrook Christian’s standout backcourt made sure that the Lady Warriors’ final home game didn’t end on a sour note.
Senior shooting guard Abby Lockridge and sophomore point guard Olivia Graham combined for 14 of Westbrook’s final 16 points to lead to Lady Warriors to a 68-60 victory over Walter Wellborn in the Class 4A subregional round.
Westbrook (22-5) advanced to the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State, where the Lady Warriors will play Brindlee Mountain on Saturday at 12 p.m. It is believed to be the program’s first regional berth in at least 15 years.
After twice defeating the Lady Panthers by double digits earlier in the season, Westbrook ran up against a far different squad on Monday. Kendall Sharp’s basket at 5:56 of the second quarter provided the hosts with an 18-point lead, but Wellborn ended the fist half with a 19-4 run that cut the lead to 38-37 at halftime.
Vanessa Carter’s three-point basket 32 seconds into the third period tied the game. The lead changed hands five times during the quarter before Graham’s layup with 26 seconds left made it 52-51 in favor of Westbrook.
Three times the Lady Warriors took a two-point lead in the fourth quarter, and three times Wellborn tied it up. A three-pointer by Graham and a basket from Maddie Loyd briefly gave the hosts a five-point cushion, but a Carter trey with 2:35 left pulled the visitors within 62-60.
That was the final basket of the night for Wellborn, however, and by that time Westbrook was in the bonus free throw situation.
Lockridge and Graham each made both ends of a one-and-one to extend the advantage to six points, while Loyd came up with a huge steal with 45 seconds left that forced the Lady Tigers to foul.
Graham’s subsequent visit to the charity stripe produced two additional points with 39 seconds remaining, effectively sealing the win and earning the Lady Warriors a trip to JSU this weekend.
Graham finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals, while Lockridge contributed 24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Grace Cockrell added six points and eight rebounds.
“We tried to run and gun in the second and third quarters, and you saw where that got us,” said Westbrook head coach Jamie Barkley. “We got complacent and missed layup after layup. But we played real smart in the home stretch and pulled it out. We only had a few unforced errors in the last little bit, which helped out a lot.”
Westbrook shot 92 percent (11-for-12) from the free throw line in the final 10 minutes and 6-for-6 during the last two minutes.
“Free throws are something that we spend a lot of time on in every practice, and you could tell it made a difference down the stretch,” said Barkley.
Carter scored 35 points, but only five in the fourth quarter.
“They kept feeding the ball to her, and I couldn’t find the right combination (on defense) to frustrate her,” said Barkley. “But that’s a testament to her, and you don’t find too many freshman girls who can play like that. But at the same time, you won’t find too many sophomores who can play like Olivia.”
Wellborn ran out to a quick 7-0 lead, moving Barkley to use a time-out. Eleven points from Graham helped erase the early deficit, and three 3-pointres from Lockridge sparked the hosts to a 28-11 lead after one quarter.
“We ran only three offensive plays all night, and those were when I could finally get their attention to settle them down,” said Barkley. “We finally got our second win, settled down and ran our plays.”
The Lady Warriors soon increased their lead to 18 points, but 15 points from Carter swung the momentum toward Wellborn, and her jump shot with six seconds remaining in the first half capped a 26-10 run and trimmed Westbrook’s advantage to 38-37 at intermission.
“I keep saying that we’re the best-kept secret in [Class] 3A,” said Barkley. “Our girls played as hard as they could play, and I think we have to potential to play pretty far. I only have nine girls, and every one of them works her tail off.”
Barkley was happy to see Lockridge reach the regional tournament in her final opportunity after being a starter since her 8th grade year.
“It’s super special for her, and she really deserves it after all the hard work she’s put in over the years.”