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The Westminster Bi-Line

The Westminster Bi-Line

Despite strong defense, boys basketball loses close games


As the seconds of the first half ticked away, fans and players of the boys basketball team were left discouraged by the 20-plus point deficit against the South Atlanta Hornets, a highly regarded basketball powerhouse. Within the first few minutes of the second half, however, the Cats’ message was clear: they had not given up. Led by senior guard Robert Kresser’s threatening three-point shot, the newly energized Wildcats had come back on the court with a vengeance. Although Westminster ultimately came up four points short of an impressive victory, their exceptional comeback performance was empowering and encouraging.

“That game really showed me the caliber of our players,” said head coach Tray Malloy. “Not only did it showcase our talent, but it demonstrated what we are capable of doing on any given night against any given team.”

At this point in the season, the Cats have a couple weeks of crucial games that will determine their seeding for the region tournament, which begins February 13. If all goes as planned, the Cats will enter the region tournament with an overall record of 11-14, putting them in a better position to advance to the state tournament.

“We’re really looking forward to the region tournament, especially after last year,” said senior point guard Michael Russell. “We should have made it to the state tournament last year but didn’t so we’re trying to redeem ourselves.”

Russell, a three year varsity player, “has had to carry a big burden for us with handling the ball and has had to play a lot of minutes,” explained Malloy. In addition to Russell’s talent and dependability, Malloy looks to Kresser for leadership and consistency.

“He has really done an outstanding job,” said Malloy. “His leadership from the beginning, being the lone senior during preseason, provided us with a good foundation.”

Other key contributors to the starting line up include seniors Rivers Patterson and Chapman Wilkinson, as well as juniors Joe Bridges and Harrison Butker. Coming in off the bench, Malloy points to junior Sam Holmes as an invaluable contributor.

“I’ve been very impressed with [Holmes],” said Malloy. “He’s given us some quality minutes.”

The Wildcats have had to overcome a string of difficulties this season. After graduating eight seniors from last year’s team, which finished the season with an impressive 14-10 record, the Cats faced the challenge of introducing new players to the program. Key losses included Dylan Jeffay and Cameron Smith, whose height proved pivotal for last year’s team. Although junior Robert Howell and sophomore Sam Schmal serve as this year’s tallest post players, the Cats still pale in comparison to most of their opponents.

“Since we don’t have the size that we had last year, we have to have a lot better teamwork,” said Wilkinson. “We play a lot of zone defense so we have to depend on each other a lot which brings us closer as a team.”

The lack of size, however, has not stopped the Cats from being one of the best defensive teams in Region 6-AA, arguably the toughest region in the state. Although the team struggles offensively at times, averaging only 47 points a game, they are allowing on average just 45 points each game.

“Our defense has kept us in ball games,” said Malloy. “We might not be scoring a lot, but we aren’t allowing many points either.”

The Cats have catered their tactical strategy to this defensive strength.

“Each game,” said Malloy, “the goal is to go out and play tenacious, hard-nosed defense, to rebound like crazy, and to exploit the opponent’s offense.”

Despite the Wildcats’ aggressive defense, they have suffered many frustrating losses. In fact, seven of their 14 losses have been by less than ten points.

“It can be seen as a positive that we have been so close,” said Malloy. “But it’s also very frustrating.”

Although these games have been disappointing, Russell sees them as good practice for the competition in the post-season.

“Buford and Greater Atlanta Christian are both in our region and are the favorites to play in the state championship,” Russell said. “We have some really tough competition but its getting us ready for the more important games.”

In the second match-up against arch-rival Lovett, the Cats came up short again, but they narrowed the point differential to just 11 points compared to the earlier 17 point loss. Down by 13 at half time, the Cats made a strong second-half run, threatening the Lions lead to just six points. However, as the minutes fell away, Westminster struggled offensively, failing to make the shots necessary to overtake the Lions.

“We need to work on limiting our turnovers,” said Russell, “and handling the ball with care.”

After the disheartening loss to the Lions, the team is preparing to face the rest of their sub-region opponents, Blessed Trinity, Maynard Jackson, South Atlanta, and Therrell,  for the second time this season. Netting victories in these final region games would be advantageous as they head into the region tournament.

“We have to continue to get better,” said Malloy. “We have to find what works for us and make sure we do that day in and day out. We just have to be more consistent.”

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