Defending sectional champion Southwestern, a team that made it all the way to the Class A girls basketball Final Four a year ago, defeated Greenwood Christian Academy, 55-28, in the first round of the Morristown Sectional Tuesday night.
With the win, their fifth straight, the Spartans advanced to the semifinals where they will meet Lutheran on Friday.
In the sectional-opener Tuesday, the Saints defeated the host Yellow Jackets, 36-31.
Although both teams got off to a slow start, the Spartans’ size and athleticism dictated the pace of the game. Southwestern grabbed a 9-0 lead using a high-low post with juniors Oda Shackleford and Taylor Eversole.
The Cougars finally got on the board on a put back by freshman Catherine Davis.
Greenwood Christian spread the floor on offense looking for senior guards Hannah Wright and Kierra Weber to get going from outside the 3-point arc.
The opportunities came, but their shots would not fall.
Southwestern turned the ball over five times in the opening quarter, but finally settled down with point guard Annie Thomas leading the offense.
Shackleford got inside for three uncontested layups followed by two quick steals by Brooke Kistler and Thomas that led to three consecutive fast-break layups, giving the Spartans a 20-2 advantage at the end of the first stop.
What complicated things even more for the Cougars, Wright picked up her third personal foul and was forced to the bench.
With Shackleford sitting out most of the second quarter, the Cougars outscored the Spartans 11-5 on the strength of a 3-pointer by senior guard Kierra Weber and the inside play of freshman Hannah Peters.
With a 25-13 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Southwestern went back to its original starting lineup, including Shackleford, to increase its margin to 43-26.
From there, the Spartans slowed its offense and ran out the clock.
Smith topped Southwestern with a game-high 15 points including 6 of 8 free throws to go with seven steals.
Shackleford was next with 14 points and a dozen rebounds.
Peters was high for Greenwood Christian with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’ve had some success this season and I feel good about that,” said first-year GCA coach Alan Weems. “But what’s an even bigger story is the kids feel good about it.”
After finishing last year with a 2-18 record, the Cougars turned things around this season and closed at 13-9 and 4-1 in the Pioneer Conference, good for second place.
“With our freshmen coming along, we think the future looks real good,” said Weems.