Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — There are multiple things Waverly has to work on before it gets to where it wants to be this year. But in Monday’s season opener, there was one thing the Tigers have been particularly focusing on that stood out.
Tied with West 27-27 late in the third quarter, Waverly sat down and decided to play defense. In effect, the Senators went on a drought and scored just 12 points over the final 11 minutes.
That sequence was the key to the Tigers’ 48-37 win as they opened SOC II play on a high note.
“Our focus throughout the preseason has been on defense,” Waverly coach John Bonifield said. “If we want to get to the top of the SOC and go on a tournament run, that’s what you have to do. The girls responded to that tonight. I like our effort that we played with on the defensive end of the floor.”
Having said that, the Senators (0-2, 0-1 SOC II) didn’t make it easy.
West used its mix of experience and youth to force turnovers, crash the boards and keep the score close throughout the contest.
“West is a talented young squad,” Bonifield said. “I like that they made us play for 32 minutes. You can play through things in scrimmages but you’re just not used to playing a full game. So we had to make some adjustments and defense won that ballgame. I was really proud of that.”
At the center of West’s game plan was senior Morgan Rigsby, who scored 13 points and brought down 16 of the team’s 20 rebounds. Time and time again, Rigsby was there to clean the glass and put the ball in the net.
“[Rigsby] has great size and great strength. She likes going to her right but we know she can go to her left as well,” Bonifield said. “She’s got great IQ and she passes if you try to double her. She just does the little things well. That’s what I try to teach our girls. She plays within herself.”
As for the Tigers (1-0, 1-0 SOC II), juniors Zoiee Smith and Paige Carter led the charge.
Smith limited turnovers, distributed the basketball well and hit her free throws down the stretch. Carter got better as the game went on, scoring most of her points in the second half while battling underneath for rebounds.
Smith scored a game-high 17 points alongside six boards and three assists while Carter had 10 points and five rebounds. Raelynn Dale, who converted a momentum-swinging three-point play in the second half, had six points and Kelli Stewart posted three points and three rebounds.
After Rigsby’s efforts, Eden Cline and Keima Bennett each scored five points while freshman Charlie Jo Howard finished with six points and two assists.
The Tigers are back in action Tuesday evening, hosting Hillsboro, while West is back in action on Dec. 2 against Southeastern.
“It’s the first game, so it’s always good to get the jitters out of the way,” Bonifield said. “Whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, you’re going to have nerves. We talked about that before the game. So it’s good to get those over with.”