Saturday, March 27, 2021

Stifling Defensive Effort & Big Night From Beaver Push Southwestern to B2 Finals

March 25, 2021

Southwestern 50, Eden 31

Wednesday was dedicated to B1 semifinals... might as well make Thursday about the B2s. The Section 6 playoff sprint continued with another day in the Southtowns, this time Eden as they faced off with a familiar playoff opponent in Southwestern. A competitive grind of a start turned the visitors' way with a big run to start the 2nd half, and the Trojans took the momentum & ran with it to the finish line to pick up an impressive victory.

Reece Beaver turned it up in the 2nd half & led the way with 27 points in Southwestern's W.

Offense didn't come easy in a frenetic, physical start. The first point came at the 5:28 mark on a Jessica Zittel (Eden 2022) free throw, and Reece Beaver (Southwestern 2024) banked home a three on their next possession to open up their scoring. After another jumper found its mark off the glass for Southwestern, they went scoreless for a 3:45 stretch while Eden reeled off eight straight points, all from the Zittels - the first five from Maggie Zittel (Eden 2023) and a trey from Jessica. The Trojans got a bucket from Allison Lundmark (Southwestern 2021) in the final minute to break the drought and end the 1st quarter down 10-7.

A back & forth 2nd quarter would see two ties & three lead changes. It started with a Sofia Genareo (Southwestern 2021) three to tie it, then after consecutive Eden buckets, Southwestern had an 8-0 run of their own. Kira Ricker (Southwestern 2023) scored twice to tie it back up, Genareo added a bucket to give Southwestern the lead, then Beaver hit two free throws before Eden ended their long drought. They briefly regained the lead with a Jess Zittel bucket in the closing seconds, but Beaver split a backcourt trap, regained control going toward the rim & finished before the buzzer to give Southwestern a 20-19 lead at the break.

Southwestern would never relinquish that lead. Lundmark scored twice, then Beaver added a trey & another bucket going toward the rim. By the time Ricker scored at the 2:10 mark, Southwestern had scored the first 13 of the 2nd half and led 33-19. Maggie Zittel hit a three off a Jess Zittel feed with 1:54 left in the frame to stop the bleeding and put Eden on the board in the 2nd half, then Brooke Woodard (Eden 2021; SUNY Geneseo commit) hit a pair at the line to briefly trim the deficit to single digits. However, Beaver added to a strong 3rd quarter with another three to close the quarter & give Southwestern a 36-24 lead. The Trojans would leave no doubt in the 4th, and Beaver had her prints all over it. She canned another three with 5:44 left - the first points of the quarter either way - and added a free throw a minute later. After Maggie Zittel scored with 3:21 left for Eden's first 4th quarter points, Beaver answered with a crafty finish in the lane. With the game all but iced, she added two more threes late in the shot clock to blow it open, extending Southwestern's margin to as much as 22 in the final minute.

Reece Beaver dropped a game high 27 points with 20 of them coming in the 2nd half. She caught fire from the perimeter after intermission, where she hit 5 of her 6 threes. She was the only Trojan in double figures; there was balance in the books behind her. The Zittels combined for over 2/3 of Eden's points; Maggie Zittel had a team high 12 points, and Jess Zittel contributed 9.

Jessica Zittel, already a 1,000 point scorer for Eden, finished with 9 points in Thursday's semifinal setback.


- Physical game, especially at the outset, where the refs were pretty much letting them rock. The physicality remained throughout, but I thought Southwestern did a better job 'getting tough' and fighting fire with fire as the game went on. In the first few minutes, they struggled to get anything positive. As the 1st half progressed, they started to get some paint touches. In the 2nd half, they consistently got paint touches. On the other end, they did a very good job containing the dribble and forcing Eden to hit contested shots. That's a team effort, and they were all locked in. Impressive showing on the road in a sectional semifinal - they earned that one.

- Reece Beaver. To not dedicate one of these thoughts to the standout Southwestern 2024 would be a blatant oversight of her individual impact at both ends of the court in this game. It's tough to call something a 'breakout' game for a three-year varsity starter that averaged 17 PPG coming into it, but whatever you call a game that establishes someone at a higher level in the court of public opinion, this was it. The early going was more of a struggle, as it was for pretty much everyone. As the primary ballhandler, she caught the brunt of Eden's aggressive trapping, and she turned it over a little bit. That improved over the course of the game, and she was the leader of 'fighting fire with fire', as she started to get comfortable using her strength and either aggressively splitting the trap or aggressively hitting a defender's outside shoulder & attacking. Whichever option she chose, it was aggressive, which was needed. As far as the perimeter shooting onslaught goes, she just caught fire. Got a couple looks and made Eden pay, and by the final minutes, she hit a contested three late in the shot clock while going to her right. You couldn't see the facial expressions behind my mask, but I was making the stink face by the closing moments. TOUGH... and that's not even talking about the other end. She ended up being the primary defender on Eden standout Brooke Woodard, and I thought she did as well of a job as could be asked. No matter who she was guarding though, she was able to pester the ball while staying in front & containing the dribble. Eden is a perimeter-heavy team that needs to get to spots off the dribble, and she helped make that very difficult. She's been doing her thing out in the Jamestown area for a while already, but if the rest of WNY hasn't taken notice yet, now's a good time.

Sofia Genareo was a steady presence for Southwestern & chipped in with 7 points.

- I've seen some of Eden's players on the AAU circuit plenty of times and once as a makeshift school team at a team camp, but this was my first time catching them in a legit high school game. I'm guessing by the makeup of their team that in order to have the most success, they need to be able to put pressure on defenses off the dribble, knock down some perimeter shots, and dial up the pressure on teams at the other end. They have the personnel with kids like Brooke Woodard & the Zittels, and they had 5 players averaging 7+ PPG this season. It's not like Eden did things incorrectly or didn't 'bring it', they competed at a high level throughout... it was just more about what Southwestern did than what Eden didn't do. Contain, contain, contain. They contained the dribble, stayed in front without having to overcommit too often, closed out hard & got to shooters, successfully scrambled & completed multiple efforts on the defensive end... Eden getting an open look in rhythm or an uncontested shot around the rim was a rare occurrence. Their pressure & scrappiness on the defensive end did cause some issues for Southwestern, but the lack of scoring makes the margin for error so small at that end. Strong effort, just thought it was a fantastic performance on the defensive end from Southwestern.

- Thursday was a bit of a mess as far as getting into a game and with all due respect to both teams, this wasn't where I was planning to be. Already saw Southwestern the previous Thursday! I was hoping to catch some different teams. However, Clarence & Lancaster athletic departments never gave me a reply and Lewiston-Porter athletic department just flat-out told me no. Eden athletic director Jason Iwankow allowed me the opportunity to come through & cover the game... and for that, I thank you. Glad I was able to swing by & check this game out!

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