WOODLAND PARK • After starting the season 1-8, Woodland Park's girls basketball team was excited for a fresh start with the beginning of 4A Metro League play Thursday night.
It just took the Panthers until the second quarter to show that excitement.
Woodland Park (2-8, 1-0) switched to a stifling 1-3-1 zone defense to start the second quarter and broke open a 10-10 ballgame at home by holding Wasson (2-6, 0-1) scoreless until midway through the third quarter to earn its first league victory 42-21.
“We were trying out some stuff defensively in the first quarter that we had been working on in practice and it just wasn’t very effective,” Woodland Park coach Dave Graf said. “In the second quarter we went to our zone and our girls played hard and created turnovers. We got a lot of easy baskets out of that.”
Woodland Park’s zone defense forced a series of turnovers in the second quarter and sparked the Panthers on a 19-0 run that lasted the entire second quarter and extended into the third.
More impressive was the fact that Woodland Park was able to keep Wasson off the scoreboard for a staggering 10:16 until Amanda Spencer made two free throws with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter.
Woodland Park’s defensive switch caught Wasson coach Jerry Austin off guard and his team was not prepared for a scheme they had yet to see all season.
“Coming in here Woodland Park showed us something different that we never have seen before and we had a hard time adjusting,” Austin said. “It’s my job to make (us) better each week. I think we had a setback and that’s the worst we have played this year. No one is going to give you anything in life, you have to go out there and earn it.”
Woodland Park seniors Elin Saxon (15 points) and Hannah Erickson (12) combined for 15 of the Panthers’ 21 points in Woodland Park’s dominating second- and third-quarter performance to help the Panthers take a commanding 31-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
“It was a big win because we needed to start off positive,” Saxon said. “It was kind of like our new season, starting league play.”
Graf called his senior duo Woodland Park’s “spiritual leaders.” He also credited Courtney Norvell and Shannon Bingen for their strong defensive play in helping the Panthers earn a crucial conference victory heading into Saturday’s matchup against Harrison.
“I was really happy with the performance,” Graf said. “It feels really good going into a game Saturday that we feel we can compete in.”
Wasson sophomore Joyce Pitts led the way with 13 points, including six in the first quarter, for an emotional Thunderbirds squad that learned Wednesday night the chances of their school remaining open next year were fading away.
“We were all very emotional today but as a team we pulled together and tried to help each other,” Pitts said. “The hardest part is not knowing what school we’re going to go to next year and if we’re going to be together.”
Pitts did her best to try and contain Woodland Park's post players, but Saxon and Erickson were just too much.
Erickson said she enjoyed the challenge of facing off against the taller Pitts, relying on her quicker post moves in the block to make up for her height disadvantage. But more importantly the 5-foot-11 forward believes this is the kind of victory that can give Woodland Park some momentum into the second half of the season.
“Our morale was up. Our intensity was up,” Erickson said. “Our intensity will carry over, and I am confident that we will do really good in the next game.”