BELOIT-West Branch senior Amanda Linhart has had, by her own admisssion, an up-and-down senior season.
With the sectional tournament underway and her games dwindling down, Linhart knows that for the Warriors to make a serious postseason run she must play a vital role. She hopes the groundwork for such a run was laid Monday night.
Linhart scored 16 points-all in the first half-and had three steals as second-seeded West Branch clobbered 11th-seeded Niles, 70-18, in a Division II sectional opener at West Branch High School.
"It's been a long season," Linhart said. "I've struggled with consistency, but this time of year for me its either win or go home for good. That's a big incentive, I want to keep playing as long as possible."
Against the overmatched Red Dragons, Linhart came out firing. Her three-pointer late in the first quarter broke an early spell of cold shooting and sent the Warriors on their way. Her layup moments later put West Branch up by double digits to stay. The Warriors improve to 19-4 and will host ninth-seeded Poland (7-15) at 7 p.m. Thursday for the right to advance to the district semifinals.
"Come tournament time seniors are the ones you count on," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "She's been a three-year starter and this is her last run. She showed some great leadership by coming out aggressive tonight."
Linhart has been a part of each of the Warriors last three district final losses. She is fully aware how the competition will only increase and how important it was to come out sharp on Monday.
"To be able to survive in the tournament you have to be consistent," Linhart said. "We did a good job of coming out with energy and not letting up on certain possessions. We need to continue to add to it."
Linhart's opening burst took some of the scoring pressure off point guard Melinda Trimmer, who finished with 18 points and seven assists. Pavin Heath, normally the Warriors second scoring option, had nine points, while Erica Johnson had 11 rebounds and three steals.
"We expect Melinda and Pavin to score," DeShields said. "Amanda has had her good games this year and I was really happy to see her step up."
The mismatch between the two teams was apparent from the start. The Warriors pressured Niles into turnover after turnover to amass a 41-9 halftime lead. West Branch used the huge margin work on lineup combinations that could yield more points in critical games down the road. The Warriors wound up using all 15 players.
"As the tournament goes forward we are going to need everybody to step up," DeShields said. "We wanted to get some bench players into the game sooner than normal tonight."
West Branch beat Poland 46-40 in last year's district semifinal.
"They've lost some seniors, but they are very scrappy," DeShields said. "They will come in here expecting to win."
In a recent change, sectional games are played at the higher seeded team. The Warriors loved the experience.
"It's a nice bonus for the seniors, " Linhart said. "It's nice to have an extra two games."
Niles finishes the season at 5-18.
WEST BRANCH: 19-22-12-17-70
NILES SCORING: Amanda Blank 1-0-2, Dana Hughes 1-0-2, Makayla Butler 0-0-0, Braley Hale 1-0-2, Ashley Cline 3-1-7, Sara Marz 2-0-5, Kia Allen 0-0-0, Kristen Cvengros 0-0-0, Katera Harris 0-0-0, Marta Sune Belmonte 0-0-0, Madison Huber 0-0-0, Taylor Zeigler 0-0-0, Alexis Petrich 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 7, 1-12: 18.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 6-6-18, Emily Menegay 2-0-5, Kaylee Manning 1-0-2, Pavin Heath 3-2-9, Mariah Herbert 1-0-2, Amanda Linhart 7-1-16, Allie Garrett 0-0-0, Catie Hahn 0-0-0, Paige Walsh 2-2-6, Taryn Hahn 2-1-5, Erica Johnson 1-0-2, Lauren Martig 0-0-0, Lea Bock 1-3-5, Brenna Rito 0-0-0, Carli McQuilkin 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 26, 15-28: 70.
Three-point goals: Niles 1 (Marz), West Branch 3 (Heath, Linhart, Menegay).