WESTERLY — What a show Maddy McLaughlin put on. And what a dominating win for the Westerly High girls to begin the varsity games of the 30th annual WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament on Thursday night.
McLaughlin had a career night and almost had a quadruple double. Westerly beat Exeter-West Greenwich 64-27, after trailing by seven points just over seven minutes into the game.
The junior guard scored a career-high 25 points, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, tied her career-high with nine assists and established a career-high with nine steals. She is the only returning starter from last year’s Bulldog team.
“Maddie had a great game,” Westerly coach Holly Misto said. “She really got her game going. She was selfless with the ball. And she covered their best player (Christine Harrington, EWG’s only returning starter) and shut her down with 10 points. Maddie did it all tonight.”
The game started like the Scarlet Knights were on fire. EWG scored the first seven points in the first minute-and-a-half. McLaughlin broke the ice for the Bulldogs 10 seconds later with a layup and foul shot. But the Knights went back up 10-3 just over three minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs then came alive — with a vengeance. Westerly’s press completely shut down EWG as the Knights remained stuck on 10 points for the next six minutes. And the Bulldogs poured in 13 points (seven by McLaughlin) in that time span to forge a 16-10 lead with 7:17 left in the 16-minute first half.
“We got off to a slow start,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes we just need to get excited and energized. Our defense woke us up. We started getting excited.
“Coach told us if we were not excited for the holiday tournament, something was wrong and playing in our own house.”
After Harrington finally scored for EWG, Westerly then ran off 11 straight points to lead 27-12 with 3:27 left and never looked back. The Bulldogs led 33-16 at halftime, with McLaughlin leading all scorers with 19 points.
Westerly scored the first eight points in the first four minutes of the second half to put the game way out of reach.
“Every second has to be intense — we’re starting to learn that,” Misto said. “We’re really working on our press — a combination of man and zone. We score off our defense. Defense and rebounding are what wins games.
“One of our kids tweeted ‘It’s the little things’ that make the difference. Like making the extra pass, making the other team work, making them tired. We’re not a big team. We work a lot on conditioning.”
The Knights’ 27 points were scored by four of their nine players. Harrington led the team with 10.
Eight of the nine Bulldog players scored. In addition to McLaughlin’s 25, Alyssa Valentini scored a career-high 10 points. Izzy Carey and Olivia Riley each scored eight.
Julianna Morrone led the Bulldogs with 11 rebounds and Valentini grabbed seven. Carey had five and Riley had four.
Carey, Morrone and Bella Malvinni each were credited with three steals.
“Everyone contributed,” McLauglin said. “We’re starting to get more together. It’s a learning process.”
These two teams have played each other 13 times in this tournament. The Bulldogs have won nine, including six of the past seven. EWG beat Westerly 51-32 in last year’s final for its first and only WCCU title.
The Knights remain winless in three games this season. EWG will play Chariho in the varsity consolation game at 6:15 on Saturday night. Chariho lost 50-25 to Stonington in the other first-round game on Thursday.
The Bulldogs got their first win of the season, having lost their first three games handily to three undefeated teams at the time (Coyle & Cassidy, North Kingstown and Rogers).
“We scheduled three tough games,” Misto said. “Each could win division titles. I think it will help us in the long run.”
Westerly will play Stonington for the WCCU title in the varsity championship game at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
The Stonington girls have won 15 of 29 WCCU titles. Westerly has won nine. The other five were won by Chariho (3), Wheeler (1) and EWG (1).