BELOIT - West Branch and United each entered Thursday night's mach-up with one loss each knowing that just one would leave that way in a spotlight non-conference contest that featured two of the area's premier girls teams.
After getting out to a fast start, West Branch weathered a gritty comeback attempt from the Lady Golden Eagles en route to a 58-45 victory.
"We knew we were going to be in for a battle," West Branch head coach Walt DeShields said. "United is a good team they are a senior dominated team and there's a reason that they were 8-1 coming in."
United dug themselves in a hole early and struggled with scoring the basketball throughout much of the first quarter. The Lady Golden Eagles first basket didn't come until the five-minute mark of the opening frame. United was only able muster just eight points in the first, three of which from Logan Gatchel's 3-pointer with just over two minutes left.
"Credit to them, they didn't quit," DeShields said. "I mean they were on the road at our place and they could've very easily given up and they didn't."
West Branch didn't take long to build up a double-digit lead. The Lady Warriors went on a 7-0 run from the opening tip before Sam Spitler ended the rally. West Branch kept shooting, as Brittany Bryte knocked down a trio of 3-pointers to stake the Lady Warriors out to a 19-8 advantage after one quarter.
UNITED: 8 6 12 9 - 45
WEST BRANCH: 19 17 9 13 - 58
UNITED SCORING: Emily Zehentbauer 2-2-7, Sam Spitler 4-2-10, Mackenzie Gatchel 1-0-3, Cassidy Yoder 0-2-2, Mollie Phillis 0-0-0, Courtney Hydrick 1-8-10, Tara Gray 5-0-11, Allison Parks 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 14-18, 45.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Brittany Bryte 5-1-14, Melinda Trimmer 4-1-9, Pavin Heath 4-0-9, Amanda Linhart 6-1-13, Taryn Hahn 4-5-13, Erica Johnson 0-0-0, Lea Bock 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 23, 8-20, 58.
THREE POINTERS: United 3 (Gray, Zehentbauer, Gatchel), West Branch 3 (Bryte 3, Heath).
"We liked our start first quarter, and we came out and we played pretty well," DeShields said. "Brittany (Bryte) stepped up and made some shots, Taryn Hahn and Amanda Linhart came through. We were able to get some other girls involved."
Bryte finished with 14 points on the evening. Amanda Linhart and Taryn Hahn each added 13.
The Lady Warriors continued to pile up points in the second, going on a 14-6 run over the first four minutes forcing United coach Sam Mathias to call a timeout.
United came out of the timeout and went on a 10-3 run to close out the half to cut their 19 point deficit to 12 heading into the locker room.
"They caused us some problems with our dribble drive and with getting some open looks but I think as the game wore on we showed some patience," DeShields said.
West Branch made use of a zone on the defensive end of the floor through much of the first half, forcing United to settle for more outside shots. Once the Eagles began working the ball inside the paint, the scoring began to pick up.
"We tried to do some different things on defense but they did a pretty good job of going to their strengths," DeShields said. "We didn't take that away and the girls aren't very happy about that performance defensively."
The Eagles and Lady Warriors played even through much of the third quarter, with both teams trading baskets. However, United was able to slowly and continuously chip away to work their deficit to nine points on a pair of free-throws from Courtney Hydrick.
"We really weren't playing like we had the lead, we were playing like we were behind and were taking a lot of quick shots," DeShields said.
As the fourth quarter unfolded, West Branch refocused on quality possessions with each trip down the floor. Though the Lady Warriors boast an 8-1 record, they are a young team featuring just two seniors and still have much to learn.
"I think we were just playing too fast with the lead," DeShields said. "We're young so we're still learning those lessons."
Emily Zehentbauer knocked down a straight-away 3-pointer to bring the score to 51-43, but that is as close as the Eagles would come as West Branch pulled away with an 8-2 run over the final minutes.
"I thought we got some good stops in the fourth quarter when we really needed them," DeShields said. "Not so much in the second or third, but in the fourth quarter we got them when we needed them and we were strong with the basketball when we needed to be."
Being strong with the basketball allowed West Branch to hold the edge in rebounding at 21-20. Pavin Heath pulled down six rebounds for West Branch. Hydrick also recorded six rebounds for the Lady Golden Eagles. Getting to the free-throw line wasn't much of a problem for West Branch, it was converting on the opportunities that became an achilles heel for the Lady Warriors. West Branch was just 8-for-20 from the charity stripe all night.
"We didn't shoot the ball from the free-throw line particularly well, and that is something our girls are upset," DeShields said. "They want to really work on because they know in bigger games as the season goes on that free throws will have a lot to do with it."
West Branch also won the jayvee game 37-25. Kaylee Manning led West Branch with 16 points while Lauren Martig poured in 13.
Morgan Smith and Sydney Moats each paced United with six points.
West Branch (8-1) hosts Minerva (8-1) Saturday.
United (8-2) travels to Beaver Local.