BY JOHN DUBOIS
It was an all Wabash River Conference final at the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devil classic as the defending champion North Vermillion Lady Falcons faced the Seeger Lady Patriots in the first championship game at the tournament to feature two teams from Indiana.
Sparked by a stingy defensive effort in the third quarter that held the Patriots to only one point, the Falcons opened a lead and withstood a late rally to claim their second consecutive championship with a 37-32 win.
Seniors Taylor Turchi, Darby Martin and Mikayla Kinneer accounted for 34 points with Turchi and Martin leading the way with a game-high 12 points each. Kinneer would add 10 points and hit the first of the Falcons’ five 3-pointers.
“It feels good to repeat as champions,” said North Vermillion coach Terry Naylor. “We had 3’s available because of the zone they were playing. Our four seniors — Turchi, Martin, Kinneer, and Kylee Karr — are all good kids who have been starting for along time. They know what to do on the court and its all them and very little of me.”
Both teams had to win four games over the past two days to advance to the championship game Saturday and both had been riding recent hot streaks coming into the tournament with the Falcons winning 12 of their last 13 games and the Patriots taking seven of their last eight.
The Falcons would get out to a quick 5-0 lead with Kinneer opening the game with a three, but the Patriots would battle right back and cut the lead to 10-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Turchi would open the second quarter with a three, but the Patriots would again close out the quarter strong, cutting the Falcons lead to 20-17 heading into halftime.
A quick 6-0 run to open the third quarter pushed the lead to 26-17. Stingy defense and a ball control offense would help to hold the Patriots scoreless for over seven minutes and limited the Seeger offense in the third quarter to a free throw from freshman Hannah Gustus, who led the Patriots with 10 points.
“They had been leaving Taylor Turchi open a lot and offensively in the third we just basically hit some shots,” Naylor said. “Defensively, we started out the game in a zone and switched to man to man and started switching more often in the third. They are a young team and they had a hard time adjusting to the switches.”
The Falcons would open their largest lead of the game at 35-21 early in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots went on a 9-0 run to close the margin to 35-30. Turchi would hit two free throws to turn the momentum with 15 seconds remaining. The two teams met on Nov. 27 with the Falcons pulling out a 1 point win.
“We are of course familiar with each other,” Naylor said. “We knew they played a 1-3-1 zone and hitting some three’s forced them to switch to a 2-3 zone.”
Patriots coach Brent Rademacher also knew what to expect.
“We know each other so well that were not going to be any surprises in the game,” Rademacher said. “North Vermillion is a well coached team and they were able to out execute us in this game. They picked their pressure up as the game went along, got a lot of steals and got to the foul line.”
Kirsten Irvine added eight points for the Patriots, who started two freshmen.
“It was a good experience tonight and a good experience for our team overall at the tournament,” Rademacher said. “Our young players gained a lot and the format of the tournament helped us prepare for the post-season.”
Naylor also saw the tournament as good preparation for the postseason.
“We like coming here,” he said. “You get two games a day for the first two days and that helps you prepare for the end of the season.”
Turchi and Martin, along with the Patriots’ Miranda Synesael, were named to the all-tournament team. The Falcons move to 13-2 overall and return to action on Thursday against Riverton Parke. The Patriots are now 11-6 overall and return to action on Jan 8th at Tri-County.
In other action, the Westville Lady Tigers got their first victory in the tournament, taking 9th place with a 42-31 win over the Salt Fork Lady Storm as Morgan Gallion had 15 points and Ashley Hoffman added 10 for the Tigers. Toria Plotner led the Storm with 17 points.
The Bismarck-Henning Lady Blue Devils finished the tournament with a 2-3 record and took 7th place with 36-24 win over the Fisher Bunnies. Addie Voyles had 11 points for the Blue Devils and Brooke Walsh had eight and Lexi Ballard and Maddie Winkler each had six.
The Watseka Warriors took third place with 65-45 win over the Villa Grove Blue Devils and Shiloh beat Unity in the fifth place game 39-32. Watseka’s Devin Curry was named tournament MVP.