DANVILLE — Schlarman Academy girls basketball coach Keith Peoples made it clear at the beginning of the season that his Class 1A fourth-ranked Hilltoppers might win, but it will be ugly. Losing shooters from last year’s squad like Sydne Bryant and Holly Huckstadt has changed the focus of this year’s team from offense to defense.
The Hilltoppers’ success through Peoples’ method was evident in Monday’s 51-42 Vermilion Valley Conference win over the Salt Fork Storm.
“At the beginning of the season I made an announcement that our games are going to be ugly,” Peoples said. “We’re not the most skilled team. We’re going to have to rely on defense to win games, and that’s exactly what we did today. It was not our offense. It was strictly defense.”
Most glaring was a putrid 13-of-41 performance at the free-throw line. Entering Monday’s game, Schlarman Academy was holding steady at 55.5 percent.
But the Hilltoppers made up for their offensive woes by limiting Salt Fork’s offensive opportunities and controlling the boards.
Schlarman Academy out-rebounded Salt Fork 50-42 with the Hilltoppers’ Janelle Marion grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds. Fourteen of the senior forward’s boards came on the offensive glass.
Still, she wasn’t happy with her game as the Hilltoppers rushed many of their shots in the paint.
“Tonight I don’t think that it was to my potential,” said Marion, who also scored 12 points and had three steals. “I just need to slow down and trust my teammates that they are going to be there to rebound if necessary. I just need to slow down and focus more, because tonight I didn’t really show it, honestly.”
The Hilltoppers still found ways to maintain their lead. Schlarman Academy (10-7 overall, 4-1 in the Vermilion Valley Conference) never trailed until Salt Fork (10-8, 4-2) took a brief lead at the five-minute, 59-second mark of the third quarter on a basket by Sydnie Klemme (six points, eight rebounds). Klemme assured the Storm a lead going into the fourth quarter on a put-back basket and a free throw with 25 seconds to go. But the lead was short-lived. Fourteen seconds into the fourth quarter, Schlarman Academy’s Maria Rangel scored two of her four points to give the Hilltoppers their final lead of the game.