BY CHAD DARE
How a game is won isn’t always that important — just as long as it is a victory.
That was the case on Monday night for the Westville Lady Tigers.
After jumping out to leads at the start of the first and second halves, Westville held on to beat the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers 43-38 in the Vermilion County Tournament at the David S. Palmer Arena.
“This year we are finding ways to win close games,’’ Westville coach Mike Chandler said. “The girls did a nice job finding that way again tonight.
“We struggled shooting early. We had some mental lapses, at times, in the second half. But, when everything was real tight and the game was on the line — the girls stepped up.’’
The Cornjerkers (7-13) got as close as 37-35 on a basket by Haley Dixon with 3 minutes, 26 seconds left in the contest.
Westville, which improved to 10-14, came back with baskets by Mikayla Rolinitis and Ji’Cee Lacey to hold onto its lead. Jodee Ottino made a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to seal the victory.
Those three girls combined for just eight points.
“When you look at this game, we made a couple of runs at them, but we just came up short,’’ Hoopeston Area coach Clint Mathewson said. “We won the second half, but we just came out too slow in the first quarter.’’
The Tigers scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points, building a 11-2 lead with Dani Gabehart and Ashley Hoffman combining for nine of those points.
“That’s how it goes sometimes when you play here,’’ said Mathewson of the Palmer Arena. “They adjusted first, got out to a good lead.’’
The Cornjerkers answered with a 10-0 run to take a 12-11 lead, but a 3-pointer from Hoffman and one from Morgan Gallion gave the Tigers a 19-13 halftime advantage.
Those long-ranged shots opened things up in the lane for Westville in the second half.
Gabehart scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the final two quarters.
“Dani has been playing really well for us,’’ Chandler said. “She has been really solid for us, offensively, defensively and rebounding.’’
She took advantage of a hole in the Hoopeston Area defense along the baseline for five of her seven baskets.
“Gabehart is a great player,’’ Mathewson said. “That is a shot that she loves to take. It was just a few rotation issues for us. We just couldn’t get someone to stop her.
“We were trying to keep it away from her.’’
But those plays for Gabehart only worked when Westville got the ball into its offense.
The Tigers committed 10 turnovers in the second half and they led directly to 17 points for the Cornjerkers.
“It was just mental lapses,’’ said Chandler, as the majority of the offensive miscues happened with Hoffman, a senior guard, on the bench with four fouls. “Basically, we had a freshman and a sophomore at the guard spots.
“Some of our youth and inexperienced showed up.’’
Hoffman finished with a double-double as she had 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with four assists.
Haley Dixon and Sarah Dixon shared team-high scoring honors for Hoopeston Area with 12 points each, while Cayla Davis and Shelby Holzinger shared team-high honors with eight rebounds each.
Westville will play Georgetown-Ridge Farm, a 50-13 winner over Oakwood on Monday, for the Pool B Championship at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
Up next for Hoopeston Area is a 5 p.m. game on Wednesday against Oakwood.