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Garfield drops opener on road

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Garfield junior Jenna Smith, left, fights off two West Branch defenders during the first half on Saturday. Smith recorded a game-high 14 points for the visiting G-Men.

BELOIT — The lights are back on, the scoreboards show signs of life, and a limited number of spectators seat themselves within the confines of the West Branch Fieldhouse.

Believe it or not, basketball is back, and on Saturday, Garfield traveled to Mahoning County to face state Final Four participant from last year, West Branch.

The Warriors took a 26-19 lead into halftime, then clamped down on Garfield for a 48-33 verdict.

Garfield coach Aaron Gilbert had a simple message following the loss.

“Missed layups. Missed layups cost us the game,” he said. “Right there, we go six straight possessions and missed layups, and they made shots, and it ends up going from a six-point game to a 14-point game.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Sarah Seaman fires up a 3-pointers for Garfield on Saturday.

“Effort was there. They’re just a good team, it’s a tough game to open up with.”

Jenna Smith recorded a game-high 14 points for the G-Men, and she was followed by Grace Mills who had nine, and junior Sarah Seaman with eight.

After losing four starters last season and having its magical campaign cut short at the start of the Final Four at St. John’s Arena in Columbus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Branch comes into the season with a lot to prove.

“Oh man, I know the girls are ready to play,” said Warriors coach Walt DeShields, who’s in his 16th season at the helm. “You get out on the court and you don’t get any guarantees with how many games you get, so really excited to get that first one in and get a W against a good basketball team with experience. Garfield is going to win a lot of games this year.”

Senior Riley Tuel scored the first points of the contest and the season for West Branch with a layup, but Garfield found itself ahead 10-8 after the first eight minutes, thanks in part to Smith’s early six points.

West Branch senior Emma Egli caught fire in the second quarter with seven points, including a 3-pointer in the midst of a 9-3 run that helped the host Warriors take a 26-19 lead into halftime.

With West Branch ahead 31-21, Garfield went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 31-29, thanks to some big shots by Mills. The Warriors followed with a 7-0 run which began with a successful three-point play by senior Bella Laut and was capped off by a buzzer-beater from Egli. West Branch then limited the G-Men to four points in the final quarter.

Anna Lippiatt, a junior guard who is the only returning starter for West Branch, credited the defensive effort.

“I think we did really well on defense,” she said. “Got some good stops. The offense in the beginning was a little rough, we’re making shots, but once we got into the second quarter, shots started falling.”

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