TRAVERSE CITY — When Traverse City Central defeated Traverse City West in girls basketball in mid-January, West head coach Dave Ginsberg felt his team had hit rock bottom.
But since that loss — part of a 1-9 start for the Titans — they’re a much different team.
West finished the regular season by capturing its fifth straight win — and its seventh victory in the last nine games — in beating Central 36-22 on Senior Night at West High School.
Thursday’s victory was an entirely different feeling than the one Ginsberg had after the first matchup.
“We felt we stunk in that game that night,” Ginsberg said, reflecting back on the 24-21 loss. “I think we got to the depths of despair at Central that night. We were 1-9 and now we’re 8-11. We’ve lost against Manistee (by three points) and at Cadillac by one. We’ve done a good job. We’ve regained ourselves.”
Part of West’s turnaround can be attributed to being completely healthy. Kimmy Bilinski, who led the Titans with 12 points on Thursday, missed the first six games and Kiley Kreple, who has provided a shot in the arm offensively, defensively and from a leadership standpoint, missed seven straight games mid-season.
“I believe if those two would’ve played the whole season we would’ve won the league,” said Ginsberg. “I really believe that.”
West’s defense keyed Thursday’s victory as the Titans held the Trojans (4-16) to one point over a 12-minute stretch between the latter stages of the first quarter and the midpoint of the third quarter. In that time Central went from leading 8-5 to trailing 25-9. West’s performance was typical for what it has done this season, where it has allowed only 27 points per game.
“We moved our feet fast. We were practicing that,” said Bilinski, one of five seniors to be honored before the game. “We know they shoot and fake, and go drive, so we were practicing that and we got it down so we didn’t give them extra shots.”
The Titans didn’t get their offense going until late in the first half. Bilinski had a hand in that, sinking two free throws late in the second quarter that sent West into the half with a 15-9 lead. She then scored nine of the Titans’ 19 points in the third period, drilling one try from behind the arc and completing two other three-point plays.
“I knew we’d eventually start making some shots,” said Ginsberg. “They were giving us good shots in that first half and we didn’t hit them. I’m thrilled for our seniors, to be able to go out and win a game, especially against a rival.”
Central was led by Taylor Cobb and Eliza McCall, both with five points. The Trojans were playing without head coach Heather Simpson, who is hospitalized. Assistant Wendy Sherwin filled in for the absent Simpson.
“I hope their coach is OK,” said Ginsberg. “I know she’s a little ill right now. We did say a pray for her pre-game.”
With both teams wrapping up the regular season, the focus now turns to the district tournament, which starts on Monday for the two schools. West hosts Sault Ste. Marie while Central heads to Petoskey.
“We’re feeling good,” said Bilinski. “We’ve improved so much this season. We’ve worked hard. We definitely have the potential to (win the district). We have to make our shots and do good on defense and we’ll be great.”
Ginsberg is anxious to get the postseason started, considering the momentum the Titans are carrying into the district.
“We’re the same team that struggled early in the year, but we have all our players back,” he said. “I just want to get a win Monday and it won’t be easy. We’ll have to play our best to do that.
In the junior varsity game West won 51-36. Makenna Mattson had 15 and Sara Sievers 14 for the Titans (7-12). Central (10-10) was led by Abby Green’s 18 points.
Central’s freshmen were victorious 52-41. Mary Drake had 24 for the Trojans (5-9) and Kyali Hewitt led West (3-16) with 18.