>The Western High School girls basketball team might have had height on its side, but Northwest had most of the heart.
Despite giving up several inches to her opposition, Northwest senior Ashley James scored 11 points and had 17 rebounds as part of a balanced attack that led to a 51-36 Mounties victory Tuesday in the season opener for both teams.
“When I was looking at them, I was telling my girls we should be able to win this battle if we’re halfway aggressive,” Western coach John Moffitt said, “but a player like (James) is tough. She doesn’t have a lot of size, but she’s got a lot of heart and a nose for the basketball.”
James tied up loose balls and tipped rebounds to teammates throughout the game to help Northwest (1-0) force 36 turnovers and out-rebound Western 41-21.
“We don’t have a very big team, obviously, so I just try to always play good defense because I feel like that always starts the offense,” she said.
While the defense was steady, it took the home team’s offense some time to find its rhythm.
Leading 6-5 after the first quarter, Northwest went on a 12-2 run with three players hitting 3-pointers to stake the team to a 26-12 halftime lead.
A 10-2 run to start the third quarter gave Northwest all the cushion it would need.
Cassie Wanless finished with 11 points, Taylor Moore had nine, Haley Stadnikia eight and Katie Rose seven.
Stadnikia and Mary Lehman both made five steals.
Northwest coach Mark Hoyt simply said, “the first game is the first game” for a team fresh off a 20-5 campaign and a spot in a Class B regional final. He added his team “did a nice job sharing the ball and making Western uncomfortable.”
Jessica Schempf paced the Panthers with 12 points and four steals and Jordan Gebhardt had five rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
Moffitt credited Northwest’s defense for making it tough to run his offense, but he wished his team would have attacked the basket more aggressively.
“The way they played the only thing we could do is go to the basket,” he said. “Any pass to the wing or reversal or set plays — (Northwest) was pressuring everything, so at halftime I just told them, ‘Go to the basket.’ ”
As published in the Jackson Citizen Patriot on Nov. 30, 2010