BY AARON PATTERSON
If the Eastern Illinois All-Stars were going to have any chance of winning this year’s Battle for the Border basketball challenge, they needed a solid performance from the girls squad on Saturday. Entering Saturday’s contest, the Western Indiana All-Stars had a commanding 19-7 lead in the combined (boys and girls) points competition. And Western Indiana refused to back down.
Western Indiana won three quarters, tied one, and won the halftime three-point competition en route to a 44-28 win to secure Western Indiana’s second title in the competition’s three years. Prior to the boys’ game, Western Indiana had a 28-13 overall points edge with only 13 possible points to be gained in the finale.
“It was important to show that we still had a job to do and we still wanted to win, and we still had the fight,” former North Vermillion Falcon Mikayla Kinneer said. “We weren’t just going to sit back and relax.
“Ashley (Hughes), our coach, was like, ‘I want to win because I’m a sore loser.’ After losing the third quarter last night, she said, ‘I just want to go and sweep it today.’ It’s important to just win every step.”
By halftime, Western Indiana held a 21-8 advantage and left Eastern Illinois with little hope for a win. Kinneer scored six of her team-high 10 points in the third quarter during a 6-2 run that helped Western Indiana extend its lead to 33-17.
Kinneer also had a game-high seven rebounds, two assists, and three steals in the win.
Eastern Illinois coach Mike Chandler anticipated his team putting up a fight in Saturday’s game after losing big in Covington on Friday. Mahomet-Seymour’s Kristen Belyea hit back-to-back threes late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t cut the deficit more than 11 points.
“We kind of got blitzed in that first half and then we played well in the second half,” Chandler said. “I thought we would play better today, which we did. We just had one spurt where they were able to knock down some shots and we didn’t. Really, that was the difference in the game, that one span where they got their lead and we struggled. I think we cut it to 10 or 12 at one point and we had some momentum and some time left, but we just didn’t have our legs.”
Belyea finished with a game-high 13 points and five rebounds, and Bismarck-Henning’s Lexi Ballard scored six and had five rebounds and five steals.
Covington’s Aliah Kendal Larsen scored nine points and had six rebounds for Western Indiana while Jenifer Lee (Rockville) and Becka Myers (North Montgomery) each scored nine. Taylor Griswold (Seeger) and Darby Martin (North Vermillion) scored four and three points respectively. Griswold was named MVP.
After three years of Battle for the Border competition, the Western Indiana girls are undefeated against Eastern Illinois winning all six games.
“It feels awesome to represent our state,” Kinneer said. “It’s awesome. Just being so close to Illinois, it’s always a rivalry. To be a part of it and win it is just awesome.”