West Ranch Wildcats girls’ basketball made a triumphant return to the postseason on Thursday.
The Wildcats mauled the Patriot Warriors, 60-39, in the CIF Division 4AA opening round, behind a stellar defensive performance.
West Ranch (17-12) led by five points at halftime but was able to take control of the game in the second half. The Cats held the Warriors (10-18) to just 17 points throughout the final 16 minutes of play, silencing the packed and noisy Patriot crowd.
The Wildcats exploded in the second half but not a lot changed from the first. The team was getting open looks in the first half but shots didn’t start falling consecutively until West Ranch’s dynamic 20-point third quarter.
The postseason marks 17 victories on the season, a new program record for West Ranch. The playoff win is also the first in two years for the Wildcats’ program as well as the first for most of the players and first-year head coach Paul Gross.
“They definitely were excited,” Gross told The Signal in a phone interview. “We ended up with our 17th win, which ties the program record. It’s definitely exciting because we still have room to grow. There’s still things you can get better at.”
Senior Aubrey Molina led the Wildcats with 19 points and some nice passes in the paint.
Cats junior Aishwarya Sudan also played well and added 16 points. West Ranch point guard Alanna Topete added 13 points.
After a back-and-forth first half, West Ranch’s defense led to the big defensive quarter in which Patriot found just six points.
“We were able to kind of lock them down in the second half where in the first half they hit a couple big shots,” Gross said. “We defended them well in the second half. We had better defensive pressure and basically took them out of most of the things they wanted to do.”
The win could become monumental as West Ranch returns to its playoff-winning ways after winning just six games last season.
Gross expected to make the playoffs as an at-large team and now the team gets to continue its season in the second round.
West Ranch will remain on the road and take on the St. Joseph Jesters (14-11) of Lakewood. The Jesters are another at-large squad who have won three of their last four games.
The Wildcats will need to slow down St. Joseph sophomore Olivia Martinez, who averages just under 12 points and 10 rebounds a game, to advance to the quarterfinals.
West Ranch and St. Joseph tip off on Saturday at 7 p.m.