GARY — Dash Shaw spent a few years in charter schools and got to know several members of the Lighthouse basketball team on her way.
In the intervening years, Shaw’s eventual West Side team found a new city rival in the Lions, and the two teams began an annual regular-season matchup and went on to contend for sectional titles and beyond in their respective state classifications.
Realignment based on school population and other factors brought the two to the same postseason dance for the first time ever this year, and an entire girls basketball sectional returned to West Side for the first time since February 2006.
When the teams met in mid-November, the game was delayed a day by a leaky roof, but Saturday night the roof should be on fire, metaphorically of course, after both teams cruised in their semifinal games Friday night at the Class 3A West Side Sectional.
With explosive scorers that should stoke the fires on a frosty winter night, West Side drubbed Hammond 73-52 behind 33 points from the sophomore Shaw, and Lighthouse roared past Griffith 67-30 behind a matching 33 points from senior Daijah Smith, who had 40 in a Tuesday win over Clark.
“Tonight was fun,” Shaw said after falling three points shy of a career high. “I’m going to score however much I can in the championship. If it comes to 40, then that’s how much it is. I just get as many points as the game allows me.”
Smith sat stone-faced in the bleachers behind the Hammond bench as her former AAU teammate, turned AAU opponent turned high school foe converted half-court steals into layups.
“We really need to stop Dash from scoring all the points,” Smith said was the takeaway. “We watched the whole game, but I’ve known how she plays since we were a lot younger. Everyone has to play their role, but I feel like we’ll definitely be trading buckets.”
The senior-heavy Lions (14-10) enter the title tilt with three consecutive sectional championships in tow, but West Side (16-7) also has a sectional title from 2017 after winning one in its 4A swan song last year.
“I don’t think we’re getting the respect we should for winning three in a row,” Lighthouse coach Thomas Smith said. “We’re going to give West Side everything they want tomorrow.”
The Cougars sprinted to a 14-2 lead in the first three minutes against Hammond and played with a substantial lead the rest of the evening.
“It was definitely the comfort of home,” said Shaw, who had eight points during that stretch.
“The first few minutes always set the tempo, and we wanted to play in the championship. We’re looking forward to it.”
Shaw had 13 points in the second quarter and 31 of her 33 by the end of the third.
Senior 6-footer Jada Dixon connected on three 3-pointers on her way to 13 points, and Tiara Payne had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Cougars.
“Defensively we were in the game,” West Side coach Rod Fisher said. “Hammond was the most improved team I’ve seen all year, so we weren’t overlooking them, but once we got a lead we were able to go a little vanilla.”
Hammond (8-14), which started the season 0-6 including a 69-26 loss the Cougars in November, was overwhelmed in the beginning but started connecting on deep desperation 3s in the second half. AN’asani Collins hit four treys and finished with 15 points, while fellow senior Arial Watts added 13.
“That first half wasn’t our best,” Hammond coach Eundee Kyles said. “We regained some composure, we didn’t quit, AN’asani tried to lead them, and we were outmanned and outplayed, but we hustled, and I’m proud of them.”
Griffith (6-18) dressed just nine players and fell behind 10-0 in the opening minutes against Lighthouse, which dressed just seven and sat one usual starter for the first quarter.
Smith started slowly but had 21 of her points in the second half when Griffith had just 15. Smith also had five assists, and teammates Prentciss Gates and Joylene Spence scored 10 apiece.
Freshman Ariel Esquivel led Griffith with 11 points, and senior Victoria Perez had 10.