HILLSBORO • A highlight reel-filled night for Whitfield junior Aijha Blackwell ended with an unceremonious thud.
With 3:23 left in the fourth quarter, Blackwell collided with a Steelville player. She spent the rest of the game with an ice pack on her head.
Luckily for Whitfield, the 6-foot junior had finished wreaking her havoc, scoring 28 points in leading the Warriors to a 68-40 win in a Class 3 girls basketball sectional at Jefferson College.
“I think it scared her a little more than anything,” Whitfield coach Mike Slater said. “I’m told that she’s fine.”
Whitfield (21-6), which finished second at state last season, advanced to face Saxony Lutheran (25-4) in the quarterfinal round at 6 p.m. Saturday at Farmington Civic Center. Whitfield beat Saxony Lutheran 44-37 in last season's quarterfinals.
Blackwell talked to reporters after the game, still holding her head.
“We’re motivated to the fullest,” Blackwell said. “We’re ready and we really want it.”
Taylor Lawson-Hicks added 13 points for Whitfield and Tajah Foster-Walker scored eight for Whitfield.
Hannah Cottrell led Steelville (24-5) with 11 points.
Blackwell dominated the boards, showed quick hands to create turnovers and displayed great court vision with pinpoint passes in the paint.
Most importantly, Blackwell took over when the Warriors needed it the most.
After Steelville cut Whitfield’s double-digit halftime lead to just four points midway through the third quarter, Blackwell ended the threat by going on her own personal 6-0 run. She capped the run with a pair of offensive rebounds, one which led to a fade-away jumper and the other a pretty reverse layup to give the Warriors a 43-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“She just wouldn’t be denied,” Slater said. “Everyone sees what this kid does on the floor, but they don’t see her maturity off the floor. She’s had a laser-like focus the last month and a half.”
Blackwell started the final frame with a 3-pointer and another bucket and Lawson-Hicks followed with a pair of treys as the Warriors’ lead quickly went north of 20 points.
Lawson-Hicks scored 10 of her points in the final frame.
“Just a matter of the game coming to me for the most part,” Lawson-Hicks said. “My teammates kept saying keep your head up Tay, keep shooting Tay.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Blackwell and Jade Moore ignited an 8-4 run for Whitfield midway through the first quarter giving the Warriors a 12-7 lead.
Steelville’s Lydia Sexton capped the opening frame with a pair of buckets to cut the Whitfield lead to 14-13.
Whitfield’s defense took over in the second quarter. Whitfield’s size and length clogged the Steelville passing lanes and dominated the boards.
After connecting on six of its 12 shots in the first quarter, Steelville missed its first five and shot 18 percent (2-for-11) from the field in the second quarter. The Cardinals didn’t score for the first four minutes, 20 seconds of the second and turned it over four times.
Whitfield’s offense found its rhythm at the same time. Blackwell scored six of her 15 first half points, Kelsey Blakemore scored four and an Ariel Jennings 3-ball gave the Warriors a 29-18 halftime lead.
Steelville started the third quarter with a 10-3 run and Abigal Booker’s 3-pointer cut the Whitfield lead to 32-28.
“When the game gets tight like that, my mind races and it tells me that I have to be more aggressive for my team,” Blackwell said. “I have to get them involved.”