WATSEKA — Hoopeston Area coach Matt Colston saw his program take a major step forward this season.
The Cornjerkers under the second-year coach, won nine of their final 10 games to earn a share of the Vermilion Valley Conference title with the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils.
But on Wednesday night, Colston and Hoopeston Area saw that the program still needs to take a few more steps forward as Paxton-Buckley-Loda claimed a 66-45 victory in the IHSA Class 2A Watseka Regional semifinals.
“We just came out flat from the very beginning,’’ Coltson said. “Paxton has a lot do with that. They just simply out-toughed us. That’s the next level that our kids need to take in our program.
“When you get hit like we did tonight, you have to hit back and fight through it. We didn’t step up to the same level of toughness that Paxton displayed.’’
The Panthers (18-8) got the job done on the defensive end against the Cornjerkers.
After Mason Layden knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes, Hoopeston Area (18-10) made just one more 3-pointer in the final 30 minutes on 15 attempts and the Cornjerkers shot a disappointing 30.4 percent from the field.
“We were settling for the 3-point shot. That was there, so we took it,’’ Colston said. “It was difficult for our kids to process that there was a lot of frustration in their heads because of the physicality of Paxton. We’ve been through it before and they have handled it.
“But in tournament time, when teams lose, it’s usually because of the things that have always bothered them come back up. Physicality and mental awareness have bothered us and were a problem.’’
Another issue for Hoopeston Area was senior point guard Brennan Crose was held to just six points and two assists by the Paxton-Buckley-Loda defense.