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GARY — It was her first game as West Side head girls basketball coach and Shanee’ Butler already faced her first high-stakes halftime speech.

The Lady Cougars’ double-digit lead was down to three at halftime as the host Bowman Academy Eagles used a 12-5 second quarter to close in on West Side. Breaking in a new system, the Lady Cougars looked frustrated against a team they beat by 45 a year ago, and a pileup of turnovers and unnecessary fouls led Butler to have her team run lines before heading to the locker room. After a halftime powwow, the Lady Cougars busted out with a big third quarter to earn a 71-39 win, Butler’s first at West Side.

“It feels good. It should’ve been better,” Butler said. “At the end of the day, no matter how (well) a team can come out, we still need to execute our game plan. … We’re trying to get the (kinks) out. We’re working.”

Butler replaces Rod Fisher, the coach at West Side for the previous 35 seasons. Fisher was notified in September that his contract was not being renewed. Fisher, who guided West Side to the 2005 Class 4A state championship game, has 674 career wins in 41 total seasons, making him the second-winningest girls basketball coach in state history.

West Side’s full-court press helped it build the initial lead, and the Lady Cougars got back to it in a 23-8 third-quarter burst as guards Dash Shaw and Trinity Barnes created deflections and ran out for layups. Butler has placed a heavy emphasis on building the Lady Cougars’ stamina, and it paid off as West Side ran on the Eagles all game.

Shaw said West Side used its press far more than in past years, and it created much of its offense throughout the game. Although the Lady Cougars may not love constant sprints in practice, Shaw said the fact that the press helped earn the team Butler’s first win showed its worth.

“It’s a pro-and-con kind of thing,” Shaw said. “It’s a lot of running, but off the court, it’s fun. It’s worth it.”

Bowman Academy had its own turnover and foul problems in the first half, as West Side’s press gave Shaw opportunities to attack the rim in transition and get the Lady Cougars out to the early lead. As the Eagles’ defense tightened up, however, West Side couldn’t get back to its press and struggled to defend without fouling in the half court.

Shaw made sure that changed in the second half, however, as she forced multiple steals on defense despite picking up three fouls in the first half. By the time West Side took Shaw out for good midway through the fourth, she had racked up 32 points.

Barnes, a freshman, added 20 points and a left-wing 3 to break the game open early in the fourth. Barnes turned around and flashed a big smile for her first career three, putting the Cougars up 23.

Daryan Bryant led Bowman with 18 points.


Robbie Weinstein covers Porter County prep sports and Valparaiso University athletics for The Times. You can find the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University grad posted up on the nearest field of play or in front of the TV.