CREVE COEUR • In a week where most students are taking their final exams, the Whitfield girls basketball team settled in on a pre-test of sorts Thursday night.
Headed into the opening round of the Visitation Christmas Tournament on Saturday, the Warriors played a final tuneup by playing hosting to undefeated yet undermanned Cardinal Ritter.
In a game of runs, it was Whitfield that came out on top of a 57-48 decision. Warriors senior guard Taylor Lawson-Hicks said removing the Lions from the ranks of the unbeaten was big headed into Saturday.
“It's fun that we've kept going, we have a lot to prove,” Lawson-Hicks said. “We have to prove to the people at Visitation, to the coaches and to the players on the other teams at that event that we are a top team and that we belong there. We have a lot to offer and we can be in the discussion when it comes to winning the championship.”
Whitfield (7-1, No. 3 in STLhighschoolsports.com small-schools rankings) held off a short-handed Ritter side thanks to a big third quarter.
After Ritter scored the first seven points of the second half to pull to within 28-27, the Warriors closed the quarter on a 17-4 run to provide more than enough cushion.
While junior guard Aijha Blackwell was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line in the quarter and added a pair of baskets on the way to a game-high 26 points, Lawson-Hicks helped orchestrate the run and scored a basket of her own.
“We know she missed last year, but she's a senior, a veteran and we still expect so much from her,” Whitfield coach Mike Slater said. “She still has it in her and we knew it was going to take some time. This is still just her first few games back.”
Blackwell said she is glad to see Lawson-Hicks rounding into form right before a big event like the Visitation Tournament.
While the 13 points she scored on a trio of 3-pointers will only help the team, Lawson-Hicks' leadership is proving priceless, Blackwell said.
“We just want to grow over time and get better and playing Ritter and having Taylor continue to (rebound) helps us with that,” Blackwell said. “It was a big game for us and I think it shows we're really ready for Visitation.”
Cardinal Ritter (6-1, No. 7 SS) played the game without two starters and also had to deal with an in-game injury to junior guard Jade McBride.
The Lions were by 16 points from senior forward Mecca Hamm-Bey and 11 from junior guard Ryann Haynes.
“I pulled two girls up from junior varsity, and if I don't pull them up, we only have five,” Cardinal Ritter coach Darren Wade said. “I was limited in my offense because, as freshmen, they don't know the offense. Still, I like the way the girls competed. All I can ask is that we keep getting better and learn something from each game, win or lose.”
Slater said the win is important headed into one of the toughest tournaments around, where Whitfield is the No. 4 seed.
The Warriors face MWAA rival Nerinx Hall (4-5) in a first-round game at 4 p.m. Saturday.
"I think we're definitely not a fun team to play," Slater said. "Does that make us dangerous? I hope so."