BY AARON PATTERSON
When Michelle Brooks took over as head coach of the Georgetown-Ridge Farm Buffaloes’ girls basketball team, she knew the program had been struggling. The season before her first, the Buffaloes managed only two wins. But what she also knew was that even through all of the losing seasons, there was a winning tradition within the program. How did she know? She lived it.
The last time Georgetown-Ridge Farm had won 20 games in a season was in 1991 — when she wore a Buffaloes uniform. It was also the last time they won a conference title.
In Brooks’ first season as head coach, the Buffaloes doubled their win total to four, and last season, they finished with a much-improved 17-10 record. The Buffaloes were clearly on their way up, and on Thursday, all of the hard work came to fruition when Georgetown-Ridge Farm defeated the Chrisman Cardinals 51-32 to pick up their 20th win of the season, and secure at least a share of the Vermilion Valley Conference title.
“To me, it goes back to three years ago and then the losses at the end of the season that carried over into this one,” Brooks said. “I think these kids were determined at the beginning of the season to make a name for themselves. They’re competitive.”
It was their eighth double-digit win of the season, but it didn’t come as easily as the spread indicated. The Cardinals led by as many as six in the first quarter, and the Buffaloes’ first lead didn’t come until two minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half on a basket by Lexi Ovall (four points, three rebounds, three steals).
Ovall’s basket came following a steal, and after Brittany Hay tied the game on a three-pointer. The back-to-back baskets started a 13-0 run that put the Buffaloes up 26-16.
Hay scored 11 of her game-high 27 points in the second quarter to help Georgetown-Ridge Farm rebound from an uncharacteristically slow start.
The Buffaloes missed their first seven shot attempts and trailed 8-4 at the end of the first quarter.
Brooks said the slow start might have been more mental than fundamental.
“I think they had it in mind that it’s been 22 years since we won the conference, it’s been 22 years since we won 20 games in a season, and this isn’t something that they started thinking about this year,” Brooks said. “This is something that they’ve thought about for the last three years.
“It was just a really big game to them. And they knew that Chrisman has been playing really good basketball. Most of their losses have been within a couple points, and Chrisman always plays us really well. I’ve been coaching for Georgetown for three years, and Chrisman has always put on a big game and upset us last year. You remember all of those things.”
Chrisman used a 6-0 run at the beginning of the second half to pull to within 26-22, but that’s as close as the Cardinals would get.
Lone senior Brett Bishop shared a team high seven points with Shelby Warner for the Cardinals. Warner also had 11 rebounds, and Sarah Ellis scored six, had six rebounds, and four assists.
It was the fourth game this season that Hay scored 27 or more with her season high being a 29-point performance in a 52-51 win over Westville on January 10. Many of her baskets were aided by Georgetown-Ridge Farm senior Callan Hall, who finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals.
As one of only three seniors, along with Maya Green and Catie Brandt, Hall appreciates the history of the Buffaloes program, and recognizes just how far they have come under Brooks’ direction. Accomplishing a feat that hadn’t been seen in Georgetown-Ridge Farm in 22 years was all she could have hoped for in her final high school season.
“It’s great because I used to watch my sister play, and they were good, but they never did good enough to get it,” Hall said of the 20 wins and conference title. “It’s just an amazing feeling to have this in my senior year. It’s great. It’s just amazing to me.
“I think this season, we all have started listening to each other,” she continued. “We always keep each other up. If somebody gets down, we pull the other person up. We don’t shove anybody down. We don’t want any bad feelings. We just jell like a family.”
Georgetown-Ridge Farm will now await the outcome of Saturday’s game between Schlarman Academy and Milford. A Schlarman Academy loss will give the Buffaloes an outright VVC title.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm next faces Westville on Tuesday in the Westville Regional at 7:30 p.m. Chrisman will take on Martinsville on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Villa Grove Regional.