BY CHAD DARE
Winning the Vermilion County Tournament has been a goal for the Armstrong-Potomac Trojans since the first day of practice.
On Wednesday night, the Trojans took another step toward accomplishing that goal with a 42-22 victory over the Salt Fork Storm at the David S. Palmer Arena.
“We haven’t won the title in a long time,’’ said Armstrong-Potomac junior Morgan Zindars. “Now, that we are in the championship game — it’s an amazing feeling.’’
The Trojans, who improved to 14-7 overall, haven’t won the title since 2003.
“Part of our goals this season was to win the County Championship,’’ Armstrong-Potomac coach Nick Hipsher said. “It wasn’t just to make the championship game, so we still have some work to do.’’
Armstrong-Potomac will face the Georgetown-Ridge Farm Buffaloes in the 8 p.m. championship game on Friday night.
“We are going to have to play like we did tonight,’’ Zindars said. “We have to play like a team.’’
In Wednesday’s contest against the Storm, the key to victory for the Trojans was a solid defense.
“We are a team that can’t rely on just one person — it has to be a total team effort,’’ Hipsher said. “We showed that tonight. When you hold a team to 22 points, you are doing something right.’’
It was a combination of good defense from Armstrong-Potomac and a rough night shooting from Salt Fork.
The Storm shot just 12 percent (3-of-25) in the first half, including missing their final 14 attempts as the Trojans built a 28-8 halftime lead.
“We were getting a lot of good shots inside,’’ Salt Fork coach Jeff Carleton said. “We didn’t attempt a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter. We were getting everything inside 15 feet, but we were 9-of-39 for the game.’’
Hipsher thought his team did a good job against an aggressive Salt Fork attack.
“I thought our defensive rotations were pretty good,’’ he said. “And, I also thought that our rebounding was good.
“We finished the possessions by getting the rebound and that was a big part to holding them down offensively.’’
Armstrong-Potomac outrebounded Salt Fork 33-25 and the Storm managed just nine offensive rebounds on its 30 missed shots.
“We did a good job of communicating and helping each other,’’ Zindars said. “We wanted them to shoot jump shots instead of layups, and that would put us in a good position to get the rebounds.’’
Armstrong-Potomac senior center Erika Sieberns had a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with her 12 points.
But, the big scorer for the Trojans was Zindars, who scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the first half.
The 5-foot-5 junior was 5-of-7 from the field and she canned four 3-pointers in the opening 16 minutes.
“She is kind of streaky shooter,’’ Hipsher said. “When she is feeling it, she can knock them down.’’
But that hot shooting came as a surprise to Zindars.
“The nerves were kicking in before the game,’’ she said. “I didn’t think I would shoot so well, but I hit a couple and it just kept going.’’
And she wasn’t the only one coming up with big shots in the first half for Armstrong-Potomac.
Four of the five starters for the Trojans had scored in the first five minutes of Wednesday’s game.
“When I stepped up and hit a couple of shots, I think it helped my teammates step up as well,’’ Zindars said. “We all just came together tonight and played a really good game.’’
After a rough first half, the Storm (3-14) turned up their defensive intensity in the second half.
The Trojans committed 10 turnovers while scoring just 14 points — the same as the Storm.
“We did some great things defensively in the second half,’’ Carleton said. “We picked up our defensive energy, trying to score points that way.
“We just needed to put the ball in the basket more.’’
In two games at the Vermilion County Tournament, Salt Fork is shooting just 24.4 percent (20-of-82).
“It’s all in their minds,’’ Carleton said. “They get a mindset that they can’t shoot in here because it’s totally different.
“We hit shot after shot after shot after shot in practice. But we don’t do it here.’’
Taylor Vice was the leading scorer for the Storm with seven points.
Salt Fork will play Hoopeston Area at 5 p.m. on Friday in the fifth-place game of the County Tournament.