BY JIM COTTER
Sometimes it pays to know an opponent well, especially when the postseason rolls around.
Vermillion Valley Conference foes Westville and Bismarck-Henning squared off in the Class 2A Regional at Hoopeston Area High School on Wednesday evening, with the Blue Devils coming out on top 52-44.
The Tigers, who came into the game as one of the state’s top teams in Class 2A, struggled early against the Blue Devils, trailing by an 11-3 score after one quarter. Bismarck-Henning’s 6 foot-7-inch center Wilde Garowski gave the Tigers some inside problems, scoring six points in the first quarter, helping them to that advantage.
Besides Garowski, the Blue Devils used their distinct size advantage with Brad Walsh and Andy Bott. The trio features one of the taller backcourts in the area, each measuring at least 6’4”.
The Blue Devils extended that lead to a 23-12 margin at halftime, even though Garowski sat for most of the second quarter because of an ankle injury he sustained.
Bismarck-Henning head coach Jon Clapp, very familiar with Westville’s style of play, summed up the fourth quarter by saying “we knew from playing them before that they would try and pressure us, and we didn’t turn the ball over like we did against them the last time, and I knew that they would foul us. We knocked down free throws, which we didn’t do earlier at the County Tournament.”
The Blue Devils were led in scoring by Austin Toler, who scored 20 points. Toler went to the free throw line six times in the final stanza, and connected on five of them to ice the game away.
Clapp praised Toler’s play, especially down the stretch.
“He’s our senior leader, and we expect him to step up and make big plays for us, and our objective is to get him the ball as much as we can in those situations,” Clapp said.
Toler, who hit 7-of-8 free throw attempts on the night, talked about the strategy that the Blue Devils used to seal the victory.
“Coach (Clapp) drew up some good plays that were designed to get the ball to either myself or Andy (Bott) to get to the free throw line, and that’s exactly what happened.” Toler said.
Bismarck-Henning shot 68 percent from the free throw line, making 15-of-22 attempts, including 11 of those in that fourth quarter.
Garowski, who returned to the game early in the third quarter, talked a little bit about his injury.
“I just kind of fell on it, and it hurt for a while, and they told me to just rest it for the rest of the quarter and come back in the second half,” Garowski said.
Bismarck-Henning, who improves to 26-6, advances to the championship game of the regional on Friday evening, and will face the Spartans of St. Joseph-Ogden, who demolished Oakwood 79-30 in the first game of the evening.
Westville finishes the season 21-8. The Tigers were led in scoring by Tanner Cox, who scored a game high 22 points with Robert Elliott scoring nine and Jeffery Thompson adding seven.