OVERLAND – Facing a fired-up, packed house in a visiting gym might not seem like the right place for a suddenly struggling team to find its place in the middle of a season.
But those circumstances seemed to bring out the best in the boys basketball team, as it traveled to Ritenour High’s Costilow Field House Friday night, for a critical Suburban North Conference game.
And sure, it took a while for the Wildcats to get going, but once they did, there was no stopping them in what proved to be an impressive 54-37 win over the Huskies.
“I wasn’t happy with how we played coming out of Carbondale,” said West High head coach Cary Lewis Jr. “We went 2-2 up there, and we played some really good competition, so I really thought we’d come back and play a little better here.
“But we just haven’t done a good job of executing our stuff, and that’s my fault. I’ve got to do a better job of having this team ready to play every night.”
West, which went game last year, but has only one player back that played significant minutes on that team, showed its youth and inexperience in the first quarter against Ritenour.
The Wildcats took several wild shots and committed a number of bad turnovers in the opening period, but still somehow managed to escape with an 8-4 lead.
Then in the second quarter, with Ritenour showing off its inability to protect the ball, West propelled itself to a 21-14 halftime lead by outscoring the Huskies 13-10.
“Both teams were kind of sloppy,” Lewis said. “And I didn’t like how we were playing at all. We’ve got a lot of stuff we need to work on and get better at.”
That sentiment became apparent in the third quarter, when Lewis pulled his entire starting lineup from the game, and inserted the second string–none of whom played any varsity basketball prior to this year.
But that move proved to be a stroke of genius, as the Wildcat second team took over the game and blew Ritenour right off the floor, by outscoring the Huskies 30-15 over the final 10 minutes of the game.
Junior Fred Forest, one of West’s top reserves, wound up leading the Wildcats in scoring with 10 points, as nearly every Hazelwood player that got into the game scored at least one basket.
Teammate T.J. Ross also had a good night, totaling eight points, five rebounds, five assists, and five steals in the victory.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Lewis said. “Our second team guys really did the job tonight. I normally play 10, 12 guys, but my assistant coaches suggested that we (limit) the rotation to just seven or eight.
“But I wasn’t real happy with what our starters were doing. So those extra guys got some time. And they’re used to playing, so they were able to step up when we needed them to.”
The victory ended a three-game losing streak for West, which lost its final game in the Carbondale Tournament last weekend, then took two rough losses against and earlier this week.
West is now 7-6 on the season, with another game scheduled for today, as the Wildcats will travel down to Cape Girardeau Central High to play in the Tiger Shootout, against Cape Notre Dame High.
Next week will also be heavy on game action for the Wildcats, who could play as many as four games in five days, with a non-conference game at on Wednesday, and then appearances at the Thursday-Saturday Denver Miller Tournament at .
“We’ve also got some big games in the Suburban North coming up too,” Lewis said, with matchups against 11-1 , 7-4 , and 9-2 coming up in late January and February.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for all that. And I was proud to see how some of our guys worked out here tonight.”
West’s next home is Tuesday, January 17, when the Wildcats will host at 7 p.m.
HAZELWOOD WEST WILDCATS REMAINING BASKETBALL SCHEDULE1/11 at Ft. Zumwalt South 7 p.m.
vs. Jennings @ Kirkwood Tournament 5:30 p.m. 1/13-1/14
at Kirkwood TournamentTBA 1/17
vs. Parkway West7 p.m. 1/27
at McCluer North7 p.m. 1/30
at Francis Howell Central6:30 p.m. 1/31
vs. Parkway Central7 p.m. 2/6
vs. Hazelwood Central5:30 p.m. 2/7
vs. Hazelwood East6:30 p.m. 2/10
at7 p.m. 2/16
vs. McCluer6:30 p.m. 2/20-2/24
MSHSAA Class 5 Districts @ Parkway CentralTBA