BY JOHN DUBOIS
With both teams coming off hard-fought wins in their Vermilion Valley Conference openers, the Oakwood Lady Comets and the Westville Lady Tigers each came into Thursday’s game at Westville with a chance to build some early momentum in VVC play.
The 35th anniversary season for the Lady Comets has been a time of transition with Jeff Ford taking over for long-time coach Rick Bough, who relocated to California.
The Lady Tigers have had an up and down season so far, but they have been getting big contributions early on from senior Ashley Hoffman who came up big again — scoring the go-ahead basket with just less than two minutes to go to cap a 10-point second half comeback as the Tigers pulled out a 42-37 win.
Danielle Gabehart had nine of her game-high 12 points in the second half, with Jodee Ottino adding nine of her 11 points in the second half, and Hoffman seven of her ten points.
“We were very lax early in the game and started getting after it more in the second half,” said Westville coach Mike Chandler. “We started getting good shots, we got great minutes from our bench, and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
Lexy Terry would score six points for the Comets in the first quarter with the period ending in an 8-8 tie. Freshman MaKayla Gayler would score the first four points of the second quarter for the Comets and the last two as Oakwood took a 22-12 lead into halftime.
“MaKayla is probably the best pure athlete we have,” Ford said. “She is very quick and very smart with the ball when she plays under control.”
The Tigers would get their offense going in the third quarter, scoring more points than they did in the first half and cut the Comets lead to 33-26. Ottino scored nine of her second half points in the third.
“We really were flat early in the game,” Chandler said. “Oakwood is the type of team that is very fun to watch because they play very hard and very physical. Any time there was a loose ball there were purple jerseys all around it. We were also playing very soft in the first half.
“Jodee played much better in the third. She stepped up to the challenge, got into an offensive rhythm and went with it.”
It would be more of the same for the Tigers in the fourth period as they outscored the Comets 16-4.
“We came out in the fourth and decided we wanted to win this game,” Chandler said. “It was the effort on defense that made the difference. We were struggling early in the season shooting free throws, especially in the Oakwood tournament, but we made some key foul shots late in this game. It’s nice that you can have seniors like Danielle and Ashley who can step up for you in key moments.”
Gabehart was 8-for-11 from the foul line, including a 5-for-5 effort in the second half. The Tigers had last led at 5-4 before Hoffman made a shot in the lane with one minute and forty-five seconds to go to put the Tigers up 38-37.
“We have the bulk of our team back and last year they were learning how to win games like this,” Chandler said. “We not only have seniors who can step up, they want to, and that is key to winning close games.”
Ford felt the game was a learning experience for his team.
“We couldn’t finish late, but I was very happy with our effort tonight,” he said. “When Lexy Terry fouled out in the fourth we weren’t able to run our offense as effectively as their pressure got to us. We have improved dramatically since the season started. We have along ways to go, but I am very happy with the direction we are going.”
Gayler would lead the Comets with eleven points, with Terry adding eight, and Harlena Hardin six.
The Comets 2-8 overall, 1-1 VVC are at home Monday to face Georgetown-Ridge Farm, while the Tigers 4-6, 2-0, are at Chrisman.