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For much of the regular season, the West Springfield High School girls' basketball team relied on pressure defense to push past their Patriot District opponents. At the AAA Northern Region tournament finals Monday night in Burke, T.C. Williams High School pushed back, but it wasn't enough to upset the favored Spartans.
In a return to the region finals after a loss to Oakton High School last season, West Springfield won their first AAA Northern Region title since 2004 with a 46-41 victory over the Titans.
"It's good to get back here and do it," West Springfield coach Bill Gibson said. "The biggest thing was after Friday night and that emotional game was to come back out here and keep the kids excited about this game."
In the Spartan's three previous matches against the Titans this season, West Springfield won convincingly with wins of 47-33, 58-37 and 64-50 in the Patriot District title match last week.
Coming into their fourth match with T.C. Williams, and fresh off an upset of two-time region champion Oakton High School, Gibson worried the familiarity between the two teams might create some issues.
"It was a bad match-up [in the semifinal game with Oakton], it should have been the region final," Gibson said. "But the way it turned out, we've played T.C. Williams so many times and done so well [it was beneficial]. We just didn't want to overlook them."
Freshman Amy Berglund said that even her mom warned her about looking toward the state tournament and not the game ahead.
"My mom was even like 'You need to make sure you play hard this game,'" she said. "It was definitely hard, because Oakton was such an exciting game, but we were able to get up [for the T.C. Williams game]."
After the first quarter, the two teams sat tied at seven points, but West Springfield found itself cornered in its own zone, forcing shots and getting outplayed on defense.
"We were just kind of rushing our passes a little and throwing them into passes we normally we wouldn't," Berglund said.
Gibson added: "We started off alright, but we got a bit lackadaisical on the boards and that let them back in the game."
After regrouping in the second quarter, the Spartans led 19-13 at the half and continued to maintain their lead in the third quarter, 34-29. Junior April Robinson began to take control of the game in the second half and soon the team had forgotten about its first half struggles.
"[T.C. Williams] had tough defensive pressure and we really couldn't buy a basket either [in the first half]," said Robinson, who scored a team-high 17 points.
While Gibson and other teammates had concerns about getting ready for the region final, Robinson said her motivation to win the region came in the form of potential matches with the Eastern Region's best.
"[Oakton's] a great team and stuff, but I feel like there's greater teams like Princess Anne and Woodside who we can play," she said.
Robinson gets her wish on Friday night when the Spartans will host Eastern Region runner-up Woodside High School at Robinson. T.C. Williams earned a date with Eastern Region champion Princess Anne High School on Saturday at The College of William & Mary.