WESTERLY — For the Westerly High girls basketball team, success revolves around two themes: playing unrelenting, in-your-face pressure defense and having a short basketball memory.
Both attributes were on display Sunday afternoon in the Bulldogs' 51-33 victory over Cranston East in the Division II tournament quarterfinals. It was Westerly's 10th straight win. The Bulldogs are 11-2 overall.
Westerly, the top seed from Division II-South, had opened the game with nine points in the first 55 seconds on its way to a 13-0 lead.
But the Thunderbolts, the No. 5 seed from D-II North, did not wilt. They started finding lanes to the basket, and when Gigi Ortiz hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the half, East only trailed by four, 22-18.
Chole Kitterick, an inside player, scored 10 points in the half on drives to the hoop. The 'Bolts (4-10) were 2 of 8 from the free-throw line and missed the front end of two 1-and-1s in the first half. A better showing at the line could have put them in the lead.
At halftime, Westerly coach Sue Haik told the Bulldogs they were playing not to lose and reminded them to play to win. She told them their defense was not up to par and it needed to change. Westerly was not making Cranston East "feel uncomfortable," according to Haik.
Westerly took Haik's words to heart, outscoring the Thunderbolts, 22-6, in the quarter to take a 44-24 lead.
Westerly turned up the defense after halftime by applying full-court pressure, turning the game into a helter-skelter affair.
Westerly outscored the Thunderbolts, 16-2, to open the second half, creating turnover after turnover and scoring in either transition or on putbacks in the decisive quarter.
"I think at halftime we kind of realized we needed to step it up a little bit. I felt like on the defensive end in the first half we could have been a lot more aggressive, quicker on our feet," Westerly guard Jackie Fusaro said. "On defense, you have to move your feet, have active hands and you have to talk. Communication is big."
Westerly guard Rachel Dobson, who usually draws the top perimeter threat on opposing teams, said Westerly's success is built on defense.
"Defense is my favorite part of the game. I focus on their hips," Dobson said. "Every girl tries to jab and fake and then go the other way. I try to make sure to stay parallel to them and not let them get around me. I've learned to ignore their fakes and jerks and keep my feet moving faster than they move theirs.
"And like Jackie said, communication is really big. If I pick up Jackie's player in transition, she picks up mine."
Westerly has also learned to ignore things that do not go its way. The Bulldogs missed a number of very makeable shots, including uncontested layups, and they also had their fair share of turnovers.
A year ago those would have been big problems.
"Last year, we had a really bad mental year," Fusaro said. "We would get fouled and we would be out of the game mentally. If we missed a layup, we would be out of the game mentally. We couldn't come back in games. We would be down eight and that would be the end of it.
"But this year the seniors took a big lead and said, 'Hey, get the next one. This is our game. This is our year.'"
Mackenzie Fusaro led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Alexa Beal contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Jackie Fusaro finished with nine points and five assists.
"Our defense was better in the third quarter — we weren't letting them drive to the hoop," Haik said. "Our defense puts us where our offense needs to be."
Westerly will host Ponaganset or Cumberland in the semifinals on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Those two teams play Monday.
Ponaganset (8-1) is the favorite in the semis. The Chieftains' only loss is against unbeaten Classical (9-0) by 33 points on Feb. 19. Ponaganset beat Cranston East, 57-27, on Jan. 30.
Gia Keegan 0 0-0 0, Alex Stoehr 0 0-0 0, Riley Peloquin 2 0-0 4, Alexa Beal 5 2-4 12, Rachel Federico 2 0-4 4, Jackie Fusaro 4 1-2 9, Sydney Haik 1 0-0 2, Rachel Dobson 2 0-0 4, Mackenzie Fusaro 4 3-4 13, Meg Beal 1 1-2 3, Ellie Dodge 0 0-0 0, Hannah Seltzer 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 7-16 51.
Cranston East (33)
Kathy Hernandez 1 1-2 4, Chloe Kitterick 5 0-2 10, Bethanie Jean-Philippe 0 0-0 0, Norah Flinn 1 0-2 2, Gigi Ortiz 3 1-3 8, Mya Jiminez 0 0-0 0, Sofia Morel 0 3-5 3, Thamia Perez 0 0-0 0, Gabby Baigorria 1 0-0 2, Samantha Sainristil 2 0-0 4, Trinity Saab 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 5-14 33.
Cran. East 10 8 6 9 — 33
Westerly 16 6 22 7 — 51
3-point field goals: Westerly (2) — M. Fusaro 2. Cranston East (2) — Hernandez, Ortiz.
Rebounds: Westerly (40) — A. Beal 10, M. Beal 8, Haik 6, Peloquin 5, Federico 4, M. Fusaro 3, J. Fusaro 2, Dobson, Stoehr.