Western's girls basketball team had a pretty basic strategy for starting strong in Friday night's game against archrival Poly: Keep the energy high and exploit its advantage inside.
The No. 11 Doves were revved up, and they got the ball to 6-foot-3 center Aliyah Walker for their first three baskets. That sparked a 17-3 lead en route to a 48-38 victory in a Baltimore City Division I game before a nearly packed house at No. 12 Poly.
Senior forward J.J. Williams, who led the Doves with 17 points, said their energy ignited the quick start.
"Our energy kept us in the game," she said. "At halftime, we talked and told each other, 'Keep up the energy.' I just think this game was all energy. We didn't slack. We didn't lower our energy level. We just kept it up."
The Doves (7-1, 3-0) led 26-11 at the half, but the Engineers (7-3, 3-1) pulled within six early in the fourth quarter. Western answered every point — and then some — after that.
The next-door neighbors met for the first time this season after a 2014-15 season in which their three games were decided by an average of 3.7 points. They split their regular-season meetings, with Western earning its first win over the Engineers since 2011, but Poly won the rematch and took the city championship, 49-46.
Friday night, coach Kendall Peace-Able's Engineers were without one of their key ball-handlers, Tylea Galloway, and it showed as they turned the ball over 11 times in the first half.
They had a bigger problem, however, at the free-throw line. The Engineers missed 13 of 17 foul shots before halftime.
Both teams struggled from the line, with Poly finishing 5-for-18 overall and the Doves going 6-for-18. But Western shot better from the field, and the Engineers didn't have much offensive help for senior guard Khepera Stokes, who scored 20 points, including all 16 of her team's fourth-quarter points.
The Doves, with many players in foul trouble, couldn't guard Stokes as closely as they would have liked, although Western coach Tasha Townsend forced three turnovers with a full-court press in the final two minutes of the game. It didn't stop Stokes, however. Her three-point play with 55 seconds left cut the lead to 42-34, but the Engineers were forced to foul, and Western hit four of its last five free throws.
Earlier, as Poly nearly closed the gap in the fourth quarter, Western also went to its inside game. Williams hit a put-back, and Makayla Pickens added a runner off a turnover to boost the lead to 36-26 midway through the quarter. After Stokes netted a 3-pointer, Williams went inside again.
Another basket by Stokes cut the margin to 38-31 before Western's Jadia Jackson found 5-3 guard Kierra Adams open under the basket for a layup. Williams then added a driving layup off a defensive rebound to give the Doves a 42-31 lead with 1:01 left in the game.
Despite the win over the defending city champs, Western coach Tasha Townsend was reluctant to put much stock into the outcome.
"It's good for the girls, but you know you've got to play them probably three times, so I hate having to get all like this [energized by the rivalry] early on, because you know you're going to see them again and you're going to see them again," said Townsend, whose Doves will host the rematch Feb. 5.