BY JOHN DUBOIS
Sophomore Haley Dixon hit three late free throws to seal the win as the Hoopeston Area Lady Cornjerkers advanced to the fifth place game at the Vermilion County Tournament on Wednesday with a 29-24 win over the Oakwood Lady Comets.
Dixon was also the leading scorer for the Cornjerkers with eight points while Tori Smock added six points as the team had eight different players score.
Senior Harlena Hardin had eight points for the Comets, who were eliminated from tournament play with the loss.
It was a nice bounce-back win for Hoopeston Area after two consecutive tournament losses.
“Basically the important thing is that we live to fight another day,” said Hoopeston Area coach Clint Matthewson. “We got blown out in our first game against Georgetown-Ridge Farm, which didn’t settle well with any of us, and we played better against Westville but didn’t get the win.
“For us to be successful we have to play as a team and every player has to do something. We have had six different leading scorers this year, and Haley is our third different leading scorer at the tournament. Haley handled herself well at the end of the game and did a really nice job of controlling the ball.
“We have improved a lot shooting free throws and Haley is a very good free throw shooter. She was who we wanted to have the ball at the end of the game.”
The Comets had also lost to Georgetown-Ridge Farm and Westville.
“We were in this game and compared to those first two games, we were a much improved team tonight,” said Oakwood coach Jeff Ford. “We made too many late turnovers and wore down late in the game. We couldn’t maintain our composure over the last two minutes and they were able to turn the tables on us.”
The Cornjerkers were playing without leading scorer and rebounder Shelby Holzinger who was injured.
“Our team attitude is that when you are needed to step up and fill a spot you claim that opportunity and Madie Brown did that tonight with Shelby out,” Matthewson said. “She did a great job playing defense and did the things she needed to do to help the team.”
Freshman MaKayla Gayler had all six points for the Comets in the first quarter, which ended tied 6-6. The second quarter would mirror the first as the game went into halftime tied 12-12.
“Both teams came out very slow,” Matthewson said. “We have been in a lot of close games this season and that game experience from playing so many games that were within five points helped us tonight.”
The Comets were playing without starting point guard Lexy Terry, while Hardin played limited minutes due to an ankle injury.
“It is tough for us with Lexy out and Harlena being limited,” Ford said. “Senior Taylor McGlaughlin played with a warrior attitude tonight and gave us everything she had making hustle plays.
“Overall we did have the chance to get younger players like MaKayla some valuable minutes and the chance to get our younger players some experience is what we are taking away from the tournament.”
Hoopeston Area would end the third quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 19-16 lead. The Cornjerkers would take their largest lead of the game at 24-18 with five minutes to go.
The Comets were able to close the deficit to 26-24 but could get no closer as Dixon closed out the game hitting three of four attempts from the foul line in the final 46 seconds.
“It was a two point game for most of the last two minutes,” Matthewson said. “We know we have no superstars on our team at this time, but we have a lot of girls who know how to play and we didn’t make the mistakes late in the game that we made early on.”
The Cornjerkers improve to 8-13 overall and will play Salt Fork in the fifth place game at the Palmer Arena at 5 p.m. Friday. The Comets are 5-16 overall and return to Vermillion Valley Conference play on Monday with a road game at Chrisman.