SANTA CLARITA — Westmont’s streak of five consecutive Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament championship came to an end on Saturday night as the Warriors fell to The Master’s by a score of 63-55.
Both the second-ranked Warriors (25-4) and seventh-ranked Mustangs (29-3) have earned an automatic berth in the upcoming NAIA National Championship. Westmont courtesy of winning the GSAC Regular Season Championship and The Master’s as a result of tonight’s GSAC Tournament victory.
“Two really great teams battled it out tonight,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “The Master’s played awesome and made a lot of big plays when they needed to.
“I told my players in the locker room, I am so proud of the fight they have and the character with which they do everything. I know that this is just going to make us more resolved as we turn to the national tournament. We kept battling and making big plays when we need it – just not enough tonight.”
A defensive battle in the first quarter produced a 12-12 tie at the end of the first 10 minutes of play, with neither team holding more than a two-point advantage. Gabriella Stoll provided the majority of the scoring for the Warriors in the opening frame, draining two free throws and then hitting a 10-foot jump shot with 16 seconds left in the quarter. Destiny Okonkwo, Sydney Brown, Iyree Jarrett and Stefanie Berberabe, each recorded one field goal.
The second quarter started much like the first with both teams battling to a 20-20 tie with just under six minutes to play. A 7-0 Mustang run, however, put the Warriors in a hole with 2:22 to play in the first half. With two minutes to go before intermission, Jarrett knocked down a three.
After Stephanie Soares scored on a layup with 40 seconds left on the first-half clock, Berberabe made one of two free throw attempts to produce a 29-24 half time score in favor of The Master’s.
The intensity of the battle continued in the third quarter, with the Warriors scoring seven of the first nine points to tie the game at 31. However, the Mustangs responded with an 11-1 run and the Warriors spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. Unfortunately, they were unable to do so.
The Warriors cut the lead to five (45-40) at the end of the third period and were within four twice in the final frame, but could get no closer.
Jarrett recorded a team-high 18 points for the Warriors while collecting four rebounds and three assists. Both Stoll and Sydney tallied 12 points and seven rebounds with Stoll also producing three assists and two blocks.
The Warriors were held to just 27% shooting from the field, largely due to the Mustangs’ 6-6 presence in the lane in the person of Stephanie Soares. Westmont scored just 10 points in the paint, compared to 36 for The Master’s. Soares notched a game-high 24 points, 23 rebounds and seven assists.
“We had a hard time shooting the ball,” acknowledged Moore. “However, if you look at the toughness and hustle plays, it shows we played with so much heart. We had 22 offensive rebounds, we had just five turnovers to their 24 and we played scrappy defense. I am so proud of my team.”
While the Warriors had a hard time converting their opportunities into points, the extra possessions from o-boards and turnovers resulted in Westmont taking 74 shots to The Master’s 46, a difference of 28.
“I think there are things we can learn from the game and ways we can get better that hopefully can prepare us for the national tournament,” expressed Moore. “We are going to focus on those things moving forward and see how we can improve and make sure we head into the national tournament as strong as we can.”
Westmont will host and NAIA National Championship Opening Round Tournament on Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12. Two games will be played on Friday with the winners advancing to the finals on Saturday. The other three teams who will participate in the Opening Round Tournament will be announced by the NAIA when it releases the 64-team National Championship bracket on Thursday.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.