WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP -- Westwood needed a monster effort from junior Rachel Bussanich on both ends of the floor to fight off a furious second half comeback by River Dell and the Cardinals needed two overtime periods to get it done. Bussanich finished with a game-high 22 points and added 13 rebounds and four blocks as Westwood improved to 4-0 with a 53-50 win at home on Thursday night.
“A lot of credit to River Dell - they did a fantastic job fighting back,” said Cardinals coach Charles Collis. “It was an awesome basketball game.”
Westwood jumped out to a 12-point lead and saw it disappear with amid a second half flurry by the Golden Hawks. Both teams had a chance to win the game in the first overtime, but it ended in a 43-43 tie.
Westwood senior Carlye Danziger (10 points) drove and scored in the first 30 seconds of the second overtime and the Cardinals never trailed again. She also knocked down a pair of free throws to make the score 51-47 with 46.9 seconds to go.
But it was Bussanich who pulled the Cardinals across the finish line. She scored the tying points in the first overtime on a shot from in close with 18 seconds left. On the ensuing play she smothered a potential game-winning shot to send game into a second overtime.
In addition, after Danziger’s free throws in the second overtime Bussanich grabbed an errant Hawks pass, dribbled up court and got fouled. She drained both free throws to boost the lead to 53-47 and seal the game with 29.6 to go.
“During my off season I played AAU [basketball] until the end of summer and I took a break in August,” she said. “I started AAU again in September and did workouts and open gyms in Westwood.”
“Rachel put a lot of time in, in the off season - in the weight room and playing a ton of basketball,” said Collis. “She lives and breathes basketball. It showed last year and this year she’s taken her game to a whole new level. She can now score, sometimes one on two. And even one on three she can step through and find her way to the hoop and that’s strength that she’s gained in the off season.”
Midway through the first quarter the Cardinals went on a 13-0 run to turn a 6-5 disadvantage into an 18-6 lead.
“We’ve been stressing defense,” said Collis. “Going into today we’ve only had one quarter where we’ve given up double digits in three games. In the first half we kept them to single digits and that’s our goal every single game - no double-digit quarters.”
During the Cardinals run the Hawks went 8:35 without scoring a point.
“We were off,” said Hawks coach Lindsay Steffner. “We weren’t focused for some reason from the get-go. They know it’s a big game. The seniors know they haven’t beaten Westwood in their three years and I think that’s part of it. They wanted to come in here and do something. You put together a game plan and it takes a little while for them to settle in to what we want them to do.”
Westwood took a 20-8 lead into the halftime intermission but River Dell opened the second half with a 9-1 run, led by junior Bridget Cahill, who scored five of her seven points. As the fourth quarter began the momentum had clearly shifted River Dell’s way and they trailed by only six, 23-17.
“They play excellent man-to-man defense,” Collis said of the Hawks. “Every single year Lindsay’s kids are playing tough man defense, picking you up full court, half court and making it a challenge to run your offense. That’s one of the things that makes them a tough team to beat on any given night.”
Around a basket and pair of free throws by Bussanich, River Dell junior Kaitlyn McKinless swished a three, McGovern hit a jumper, senior Chloe Derian scored inside and senior Katelyn Gillies’ trey tied the game 27-all.
“I wasn’t happy at halftime and they weren’t happy with themselves,” said Steffner. “I challenged them a little bit and they came out flying in the second half.”
Bussanich put the Cardinals ahead but Julie McGovern tallied a put-back and canned a free throw to give the Hawks their first lead of the game, 30-29.
Both teams had a chance to win in regulation but turnovers and missed shots sent the game to overtime.
Junior Hannah Jackson (10 points) gave the Cardinals a 38-36 lead with a runner, but Gillies tallied a three-point play. Then Jackson hit a three and the Cardinals took back the lead.
“Hannah stepped up big for us,” Collis said. “This was an awesome game for her and she hit a huge three in the first overtime. She has a tremendous three-point shot and there it showed in that spot.”
“I came off the bench and I knew we were down,” Jackson said. “I knew I had to step up because Meghan [Riedel] got hurt. I stepped up and gave it my all. I’ve been missing my threes in the past few games [but] I knew the shot would get us the lead.”
The lead was short-lived, however, as McKinless’ two free throws tied the game 41-41.
After a series of missed free throws and turnovers the teams headed to a second overtime tied at 43.
“It’s game three and we haven’t played anyone that physical, that aggressive on the traps,” said Steffner. “It took us a while to get comfortable with their looks and how fast those passes had to get off. Once we settled down we outplayed them in the second half. That’s going to prepare them for the next step.”
“After our first few practices we weren’t getting it and in the first scrimmage we starting clicking,” said Jackson. “We can be a good team if we stay on our game. [This win] gives us a lot of confidence because River Dell is probably our hardest competition in the league and we beat them in overtime.”
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