By DAVE MORRISON

CHARLESTON – Wyoming East’s Brooke Russell and Katie Daniels readily accept their positions as role players on the Warriors’ squad.

But it might be time to change that title.

The senior duo stepped up under the white-hot lights of the state’s brightest hoops stage Thursday, leading No. 2 seed Wyoming East go a 53-31 victory against No. 7 seed Bridgeport in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state tournament.

Russell was 8 of 10 from the field and led the Lady Warriors (23-3) with 17 points and eight rebounds. Daniels added 11 points, three steals and three assists.

They were the only two in double figures for the Warriors.

“They’ve done that all year for us, they’re good role players but they’ve given us points when other three were being guarded tightly,” coach Angie Boninsegna said. “They did a great job again today.”

Russell had an idea she might be more of a scoring option against the Indians.

“I knew that I had to come in and play my hardest and I knew they’d probably double team Emily (Saunders),” Russell said. “From game film that we watched they’ve double teamed other bigs, so had to be ready for the shots, the passes from Emily. I had to be ready.”

She was. It was not a surprise to Saunders, the Warriors 6-foot-5 post presence and Tennessee signee, who had nine points, four assists and four blocked shots.

“Even though we are a No. 2 seed a  lot of people sleep on us,” Saunders said. “People think that we’re a two-man, three-man team but that’s not the case. People get on me, Brooke’s open, Sky’s open and Jazz is open and I think that’s what happened tonight.

“I felt like double-teaming me wasn’t really a good idea because Brooke was right there. Everyone else is always open and that’s what we want.”

Several times Saunders got the ball in the paint, was double teamed and simply flipped the ball to Russell for easy baskets. When she wasn’t doing that Russell was able to get rebounds and hit stick backs.

Wyoming East came out on fire, hitting the first nine points of the game – with Russell and Saunders getting baskets inside and Sky Davison hitting a 3 and two free throws for a 9-0 lead.

Emily Riggs broke the ice for Bridgeport with a 3, but the Warriors built the lead to 19-5 when Saunders scored inside and Russell and Jazz Blankenship hit back-to-back 3s to end the quarter.

Bridgeport made a push in the second quarter and was able to cut the lead in half, at 26-19, a 9-2 run fueled by two Riggs 3s and a Rory Marple 3 keying the comeback.

The second half was typical Wyoming East defense.

The Warriors Daniels got hot and scored six straight points, as the Warriors continued to get to the rim, building the lead to 40-25 after three quarters.

Russell had a streak of six points in the fourth.

Interestingly enough, Bridgeport only scored six points in the third and the fourth quarters.

“I thought Wyoming’s defense was a lot better than it looked like on film,” Bridgeport coach Dennis Hutson said. “Their on-ball defense was tremendous. I thought they did a great job defensively. Off course it’s easy to be really aggressive on the perimeter when you know you have a shot blocker sitting back there in the paint. Kudos to Wyoming East but I’m proud of our kids.”

“In the second half I felt like we picked up our defensive intensity and we rebounded well,” Boninsegna said. “We were able to get a little bit of a margin there (in the second half).”

Saunders said it was some extra motivation at the half that caused the Warriors to ramp up the intensity.

“We came in and had a real good discussion with Angie, got yelled a little bit,” Saunders said, laughing at the thought. 

“We didn’t play bad, we just hit a little bit of a lull  (in the second quarter),” Boninsegna said. “I’ve said it all along, whoever plays better defense and rebounds is going to win this title. We need to step it up and play 32 minutes of great defense and rebound the ball.”

Russell has grown to love her role.

“I feel like my role is I play good defense,  I’m one of the scrappy players,” Russell said. “But given opportunities, I will score when I have to, like tonight when Emily was getting double and triple teamed and she dumped it down to me. I had to take those opportunities. “

“I can’t only emphasize their performance not only tonight but the whole year,” Boninsegna said of the resident role players. “They come in and give us rebounds, they give us points.

Jazz Blankenship added nine points and and five rebounds and Davidson added seven points, five assists and three steals.

It was also the first state tournament action for Davidson, a sophomore who missed last year’s state tournament with a torn ACL.

“It’s just a blessing to be back out here,” Davidson said.

Saunders said Thursday’s win was the first step and she has fully embraced the leadership role, as seen by her high-fiving Russell on the bench after Russell’s quick start.

“The way I see it, this year I have a different role on my back,” Saunders said. “The last three three years we had Gabby (Lupardus) and Allie (Lusk) as leaders. I feel like I have to take a senior role with Brooke and Kate and Jazz. So it’s a lot different up here this year. I want to end on a high note.”

“It’s sad but it’s exciting because we want to go out here and get a ring,” Russell said. “We didn’t get what we wanted last year.”

Wyoming East was 20 of  41 from the floor (48.8 percent) and they held Bridgeport to just 11 of 38 shooting (28.9 percent). The Lady Warriors caused 13 turnovers and committed just three in the game. Wyoming East never trailed in the game.

Riggs led Bridgeport (17-9) with 11 points and Paige Humble added 10.

Class AA Quarterfinals

Wyoming East 53, Bridgeport 31

Bridgeport (17-9)

Hannah Bartlett 0-1 0-0 0, Madie Wilson 2-3 0-0 4, Paige Humble 3-7 4-4 10, Rory Marple 1-11 0-0 3, Emily Riggs 4-11 0-0 11, Elizabeth Deniker 0-0 0-0 0, Macey Phillips 0-1 0-0 0, Annamarie Pinti 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Spurlock 0-0 0-0 0, McKenzie Koon 0-1 0-0 0, Lauren Riffle 1-3 1-2 3, Olivia Kesling 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 11-38 5-6 31.

Wyoming East (23-3)

Skylar Davidson 1-4 4-4 7, Jazz Blankenship 3-9 2-2 9, Katie Daniels 4-7 2-2 11, Emily Saunders 4-10 1-2 9, Brooke Russell 8-10 0-0 17, Hannah Blankenship 0-0 0-0 0, Daisha Summers 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan Mills 0-0 0-0 0, Nicole Carte 0-0 0-0 0, Sarah Saunders 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20-41 9-10 53.

Bridgeport           5       14        6       6     –    31

Wyoming East   19        7       14      13     –   53

Three-point field goals – B: 4-17 (Marple 1-7, Riggs 3-9, Phillips 0-1. WE: 4-13 (Davidson 1-3, Blankenship 1-6, Daniels 1-2, Russell 1-2). Rebounds – B: 26 (Riffle 5), WE: 23 (Russell 8),  Assists – B: 7 (Wilson 3, Marple 3), WE: 14 (Davidson 5, Saunders 4). Steals – B: (Humble 2), WE: 9 (Davidson 3, Daniels 3). Fouled out – None.