Westfield's girls basketball team hopes that the third time will get it over the hump.
Despite entering the GISA Class AAA Tournament as their region's fourth seed, the Hornets have stormed their way to semifinals at Mercer's Hawkins Arena, where they will play Gatewood at 7 p.m. on Friday. The winner will play either Westwood or Heritage Christian at 5:20 p.m. on Saturday for the state title.
Westfield lost both regular-season meetings against Gatewood, the region's top seed. Then again, the Hornets' 28-20 quarterfinal-round win over Tiftarea, which beat Westfield twice during the regular season, sent the Hornets to the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. Westfield also has a 47-44 first-round victory over Pinewood to its credit.
"We've played pretty well at two hostile places, and all of a sudden, here we are," Westfield head coach Chip Champion said. "The good thing is that we played a tough schedule. Our region schedule is pretty tough, and our non-region schedule is probably about as tough as it comes. I really think with the first-round matchup with Pinewood and having to go to Tiftarea, we were battle tested by that point. It shows how much our kids have grown up through the season."
The Hornets entered the season saddled with inexperience, other than senior guards Unique Tuberville and Jackie Bard and junior Gracie Duggan. During a season in which the Hornets' longest winning streak has been four games, Westfield has also not let itself get weighted down by adversity, losing three games or more in a row just twice.
"We do have a really resilient bunch. We have two seniors, and they basically are the only ones with a bulk of our experience," Champion said. "It took us awhile to jell, and we've been inconsistent at times, but here we are. This is going to be somewhat of a new experience for us; we're excited about it."
That experience also will include something that Westfield has seen twice already this year -- Gatewood's defensive pressure. That intensity will showcase the need for the Hornets to limit turnovers.
"You can put in all the wrinkles you want to, but it's more about just putting the ball in the bucket. They know us, and we know them. It's just a matter of who goes out and plays well," Champion said. "Their pressure defense -- they're going to press you when they get off the bus. They're very good at it, their defense is really good, and their intensity is very good."