With three six-footers in the starting lineup and a repertoire of quick defensive strategies, No. 18 Western made a first impression last night against Walbrook's girls basketball team that the Warriors could not recover from.
The Doves forced 20 turnovers in the opening 11 minutes to run up an 18-point lead en route to a 57-34 victory last night at Morgan State University's Hill Field House.
With the win, the Doves have all but sealed a berth in the Baltimore City championship. If they defeat Forest Park tomorrow, they will advance to a title-game showdown with defending champ and No. 14 Dunbar on Feb. 25 at Hill Field House.
Both teams came into last night's game unbeaten in the city's Division I, but the Doves (17-4, 6-0) got off to such a quick start that the Warriors (9-10, 4-1) could not catch up.
"If we had come out with the same intensity as we did in the third quarter, we would have given them a run for their money," said junior Renee Jones, who led the Warriors with 14 points and 16 rebounds. "Our young players and even our seniors were nervous, and we didn't come out with a lot of intensity."
Against a team whose tallest players were 5-9, the Doves executed their game plan perfectly from the start, switching defenses and going inside as much as possible to 6-3 center Whitney Cunningham (four points, nine rebounds) and 6-1 forward Zondria Benn (seven points, eight rebounds). They also struck in transition with senior Jeanell Hughes leading the way and rolling up 26 points.
Defensively, the Doves set their sights on stopping Jones, a multitalented swing player, who scored 43 points in one game last week and 40 in another.
"We knew Renee was their key player," said Hughes, a quick, versatile guard. "We knew that we just had to stop her, get her frustrated and that would stop their team. If you stop her, you make other people work harder than they're used to."
With the Doves doing a good team defensive job on Jones, Walbrook struggled early, turning the ball over six times before they managed a shot. By then, the Doves were up 5-0 and extended the lead to 10-0 before Jones hit a free throw with 3:59 left in the first quarter to finally put Walbrook on the board.
Later in the quarter, the Warriors pulled within 12-6 on Jones' short jumper, but that would be the only field goal Walbrook would make in the first 11:29 of the game. Hughes converted three straight Warriors turnovers to cap a 12-point Doves run and boost their lead to 24-6 midway through the second quarter.
Tabatha Timmons scored 12 for Walbrook.