WESTFORD, Mass. -- Most Dual County League basketball games will not win any awards for their beauty, and Friday’s matchup between No. 9 Westford Academy and No. 21 Acton-Boxborough was no different.
Rebounding and post play were the keys in the game as Westford came away with a 58-46 victory. The win gives them sole possession of first place in the DCL Large.
“I’ve seen them play a few times and they are tough, they’re gritty,” said Westford (10-1) coach Russ Coward. “Honestly, they shot the ball a little better than I thought they would. They’re very good, they’ve improved a lot, and they’re going to be tough to beat when we play again.”
Neither team shot the ball particularly well from the outside for a majority of the game. A-B (8-3) air-balled its first three 3-point attempts of the game, sending them far over the basket. A-B had a difficult time getting anything started offensively until sophomore Tyler Keohan (15 points) hit three three-pointers later in the first half to keep the game close. Westford lead 26-20 at halftime.
The Grey Ghosts switched to a 3-2 defense to try and combat the open looks A-B was getting, and also to try and keep it out of the lane for any second-chance opportunities.
“I think the 3-2 was an adjustment that I didn’t expect,” said Acton-Boxborough coach Tim Basset. “I didn’t expect any 3-2 out of them, they haven’t shown that against us in the past. Russ is a good coach and he made a good adjustment, but I thought the kids adjusted to it well and started scoring to get them out of it later in the game.”
On one A-B possession, Westford tried to set up its full court trapping press defense, but the visiting team solved it quickly. From then on, the game was back to a half court game. In the end, the young A-B squad could not keep up with the senior-laden Grey Ghosts.
“Twice a year we play Westford, and we always expect a hard fought, physical game with good defense on both sides,” said Basset. “This group of seniors they have, it seems like they’ve been playing for 12 years here. We knew coming in it was going to be a hard fought game. They get after it on defense and are really tough on the glass so we knew we were going to have to play well and work hard. I’m happy with the effort and the way the kids played. This is definitely not a demoralizing loss by any stretch.”
Hyslip finishes strong: Early in the second half, Hannah Hackley (12 points, five rebounds) picked up her third foul and Coward took her out of the game. As a result, most of the Westford offense started running through Sam Hyslip. She had a quiet first half with only six points, but was fed the ball early and often in the post. Acton-Boxborough had no answer for her and she finished with 18 points and five rebounds.
Her physicality and effectiveness in the post was a key reason why Westford was able to build a comfortable lead in the second half.
“I thought in the halfcourt that our kids played very well,” said Basset. “I thought we kept them to tough shots and defended very well, but it was second-chance points. Whether it be offensive rebounds, second, third chance or loose balls on the floor. I swear they must have gotten to 90 percent of the 50-50 balls and in the end, I think that’s what the difference was. They got to loose balls and dominated the glass, so I think there’s your 12 points.”
Hyslip scored her 1,000th varsity point Tuesday in a win over Bedford. Her play Friday showed why she has been so proficient over her high school career. She fulfilled her roll scoring in the post when she was one-on-one while her co-captain, Hackley, was on the bench.
“Hannah is an excellent shooter and when she goes out, I think we look inside a little bit more,” said Coward. “Some other players stepped up tonight, so I think Acton kind of spread their defense out a little bit, and we recognize when Sam is guarded one-on-one we like to get her the ball as much as possible.”
Hitting stretch run of DCL race: Coming into the game Friday, both teams were tied atop the Dual County League Large standings with 3-0 conference records. The two teams will meet again on Feb. 13 and both are expecting another physical, hard-nosed game with the highly-coveted league title hanging in the balance.
Coward is not looking that far ahead though, knowing there are a more imminent tough games on the schedule.
“We’re going to be away at Newton South and we’re going to be away at Acton-Boxborough and both are going to be very tough games,” he said. “If we’re focused and really clamp down on defense, I don’t think we’ll win by double digits, but if you win by two or you win by 10, it doesn’t really matter.
"Those are the games right now we’re thinking about as far as the DCL. Our home court has been very good to us, it’s been a long time since we’ve lost here. I think the last time we lost a home DCL game, Hannah and Sam were freshmen (three years ago). We want to be focused and take care of our home court, and then go out and take care of business on the road.”
Basset is looking forward to getting another crack at Westford, but this time it will be on his team’s home court. He was happy with his team’s effort and resiliency Friday night and is looking forward to facing the challenge again next month.
“A lot of the DCL Large games that we have had have been on the road and we were able to go 3-1,” he said. “So now, the second time around, we get everybody at home. If we can hold serve on our home court, then knock on wood, we can set up a showdown later in the year. I don’t really want them to focus on that though, we have a lot of games between now and then. I’m confident the kids won’t let this effect them. They’re going to come back and be ready to work and we’ll get after it again next week.”