The shots were not falling early for the Sacred Heart Academy basketball team. While Pacers’ head coach Gail Strumpf Cheney felt the shots would eventually go down, she knew her team needed to step up its defense.

The Pacers responded in the middle two quarters, holding West Haven to just nine total points in the second and third quarters, as Sacred Heart defeated the Westies 46-40 at Sacred Heart Academy Friday night.

“We had to step up our defense,” Cheney said. “They are a good team. We were not playing the way we do. The shots were not falling so we had to rely on our defense.”

With West Haven getting a balanced attack from Jayva Johnson, Katy Hoyt, Ava Gambardella and Kial Watts, the Westies took a 17-10 lead after one quarter. Johnson came out shooting and had six points in the opening quarter, while Hoyt and Gambardella each had four.

While the shots did not fall in the second quarter with the Pacers scoring just five points, it was the defensive effort that pleased Cheney. The Pacers held West Haven to just a field goal by Johnson and trailed 19-15.

For West Haven and coach Jim Eagan, the formula was simple. The Westies turned the ball over once and scored 17 points in the opening quarter, but had six turnovers in the second quarter and scored just two points.

“It is very simple,” Eagan said after West Haven fell to 3-6. “It is something we have talked about all year. The most important statistic in basketball is possessions. When you have the ball, you can score. When you don’t have the ball, you can’t score.”

The Pacers continued to pick up the defense in the third quarter, holding the Westies to just three points by Johnson and two more by Hoyt. The Pacers’ defense allowed the team to stay in the game.

“We definitely came out in the second half with a lot more intensity,” Cheney said.

Sacred Heart finally got going in the final 8 minutes. The Pacers scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, 2 more than they scored in the first three quarters.

“We were ahead in the last quarter,” Eagan said. “We had some bad turnovers. Turnovers are one thing. But, we had turnovers which led to them getting breakaway layups. We had four turnovers in the last quarter which led to breakaway layups.”

Alexis Iannone was the story for the Pacers and finished with 18 points. It was Iannone’s all-around game that was the key as she also grabbed 14 rebounds and had four steals.

“Alexis Iannone definitely gave us a big game,” Cheney said.

Iannone was not alone. Micaela Montini finished with 12 points, Shyla Osmond had eight points, four assists and three steals and Siobhan Fennell also finished with eight points.

The win pushed the Pacers closer to qualifying for the state tournament. Improving to 5-4, Sacred Heart is three wins away from the postseason.

“Every win is a huge win,” Cheney said. “We definitely want to show other teams in the league we are someone to compete against. We have been able to do a good job so far. Moving forward, we want to be able to show teams we are a team to compete against.”

Eagan thought his team was in the game and could have taken home the victory.

“We have to use this game as a measuring stick,” Eagan said. “They are probably one of the top five teams in the SCC. Take away Mercy and Career, and they are in the next three slots.

“We have to come out with the intensity. We need to play our ‘A’ game. We played an OK game. The first quarter was the best we played all year. After that, we played an OK game.”

Johnson led West Haven with 21 points and Hoyt finished with seven.