DANVILLE — In last year’s Vermilion County boys basketball tournament, the Westville Tigers defeated the top-seed Salt Fork Storm 43-34 to claim the program’s 17th County title. With the tournament changing to a pool play format, there will be no chance of a championship rematch.
The second-seeded Storm and third-seeded Tigers will face each other on Thursday at 8 p.m. in the final game of pool play. Westville did, however, begin its title defense on Saturday with a 50-39 win over the Georgetown-Ridge Farm Buffaloes.
“We’re really excited,” Westville senior guard Kyle Brazas said. “Hopefully we can go back-to-back, but we’re just going one game at a time, and we’re just working really hard.
“We know that we lost a couple of players last year that really contributed with Layn (White) and Robert (Elliott), but guys have stepped in for them and are doing a great job.”
It was the second meeting between the Tigers and Buffaloes in four days, and despite playing on a neutral court, the result was the same. On January 14, Westville defeated Georgetown-Ridge Farm 51-42.
“It’s always about Westville’s defense,” Georgetown-Ridge Farm coach Adam Latoz said. “Coach (Jeff) Millis does a great job of teaching it, and they have a lot of ball pressure. That always seems to bother us.
“We were trying to shut down Brazas and (Jeffery) Thompson,” Latoz added. “They killed us last Tuesday along with (Justin) Ottino. We tried to do the same thing; just tried to keep them from catching the ball inside of 15 feet. Once he catches it inside 15 feet, he’s pretty automatic.”
The Tigers’ last loss was to Salt Fork, 53-32, on January 10 in a game in which Brazas was held scoreless. Since then, he has put up a total of 35 points in two games including 15 in Saturday’s win.
“We had to work very hard in practice,” Brazas said. “We know we didn’t play to our full potential in that game, but we just came out really excited but then laid an egg. We made up for it in practice and worked really hard. Hopefully, we’ll get them next time we play them, but first, we have to worry about Armstrong.”
The Tigers can now look to Tuesday’s 5 p.m. tournament game against Armstrong-Potomac after taking care of business against Georgetown-Ridge Farm.
By halftime, the Tigers had gained a 21-12 advantage over the Buffaloes. Their largest lead came with four minutes, 59 seconds to go in the game when Thompson drained a pair of free throws to give Westville a 43-29 lead.
Thompson and Brazas each scored 15 points while Thompson also grabbed seven rebounds, all on the defensive glass. As Latoz mentioned, defense was key in Westville’s win.
“I told the kids tonight that I thought there were two keys,” Millis said. “I thought we played very well defensively in the halfcourt, and I thought we executed very well on offense. When you play good defense and you execute on offense — sometimes you don’t win because other teams also execute. I thought tonight our defense and our offensive execution was very good, and we were able to come out with a victory.”
Ottino scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter for Westville, and Jordan Romo scored 10. Tyson Reed led Georgetown-Ridge Farm with nine points and four rebounds, and Rylee Goodwin and Aaron Scott scored eight and seven points respectively.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm will next take on Salt Fork on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with hopes of rebounding from the loss and remaining in contention for Saturday’s championship game.
“You’ve got to look at it, especially now that we are playing pool play, that you always have a chance here,” Latoz said. “Westville’s going to play Salt Fork, and that’s going to be a toss-up. We’ve got Salt Fork next. We’ve just got to continue to get better and play each day and not worry about the rest.”