WBK: Westmont falls short against No. 1 Vanguard

In a battle of NAIA titans, top-ranked Vanguard (14-0, 3-0 GSAC) outlasted No. 12 Westmont (11-5, 2-1) and claimed a 77-71 Golden State Athletic Conference win at Murchison Gymnasium.

Despite senior forward Kelsie Sampson (16 points, 9 rebounds) sitting out the last 13 minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, Westmont led for most of the first half. Down 32-28 with seven minutes to go in the opening frame, Vanguard put together an 11-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 39-32 advantage. By halftime, the Lions had stretched their lead to 12 points (48-36). The chief culprit in the Warrior’s first half woes was Vanguard’s 14 offensive rebounds.

“Vanguard is a great team and they have a lot of dangerous weapons offensively,” noted Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “If you give good teams second chances you are not going to beat them. We got that figured out in the second half.”

The second half was a different story. Sampson re-entered the game and the Warriors only gave up five offensive boards.

“I am really proud of our team’s fight and resiliency in the second half,” said Moore. “We made adjustments at halftime, specifically with our rebounding and our toughness. We really battled and we believed. It shows that if we do the right things and focus on the right things, hopefully, we have a lot of success headed our way.”

After Karlie Storkson (5 points, 2 rebounds) scored on a layup to start the second half, Vanguard’s Taylor Belmont (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Melissa Norman (8 points, 2 rebounds) hit back-to-back jumpers to give the Lions their largest lead of the night.

Over the next six minutes, Westmont responded by putting together a 17-2 run to take a 55-54 lead. Lee scored nine points on three treys, Sampson contributed two buckets and Erin Beadle capped the rally with a layup.

The score stayed within one point over the next three minutes as the two teams traded baskets. With just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Nicole Ballestaro’s jumper gave the Lions a three-point lead (60-57). Lee answered with yet another three-pointer, tying the game at 60. Ballestero (29 points) then struck from beyond the arc. Once again, however, Lee drilled one from downtown, making it 63-63 with just less than nine minutes to play.

Lee, who went five for five from three-point land in the first 11 minutes of the second half, extended her streak of 20 or more points to five games, leading the Warriors with 22 points.

Over the next three minutes, however, the Lions executed a 9-0 run – seven points by Ballestro – to take a 72-63 advantage. The Lions would extend their last-game lead to 10 (75-65) before employing a tactic that came close to costing them the game.

With each possession, the Lions dribbled the ball near midcourt, waiting until the shot clock reached about 10 seconds. While the desired effect of running down the clock was attained, it also took the Vanguard out of its offensive rhythm as the Lions failed to score for nearly five minutes.

Westmont, in the meantime, whittled away at the Lions lead. With 3:43 to play, Lee nailed two free throws to cut the deficit to eight. Then with 2:41 left, Sampson did the same, making the score 75-69. With 2:03 left, Storkson produced a layup to pull the Warriors to within four (75-71). However, that proved to be the extent of Warrior scoring.

Sampson’s last two free throws were the 1000th and 1001st points in her career.

“Kelsey is a great scorer,” said Moore. “She is having an incredible senior year. It hurt us in the first half to have her out in foul trouble. But she stayed with it. She has been a great Warrior and someone who has battled. She has grown so much in her time here. We are excited to see her hit that milestone.”

Westmont continues GSAC play on Saturday when they travel to Fullerton to take on #21 Hope International (13-4, 2-1) in a 5:30 p.m. game.